Wednesday, November 03, 2010

It's a GODSEND!

Earlier this year, a very talented young friend of mine, Paddy Macrae, visited Yackandandah with a film crew to shoot various location footage for the final project in his uni degree in filmmaking. Paddy and his crew camped for a few nights in our church hall (which in itself qualifies them for a medal, I think!) and spent their days at various locations around the town, shooting scenes for Paddy's half-hour TV pilot, called GODSEND.

Well, the post-production work is now complete, and Paddy has started promoting GODSEND TV Pilot on Facebook, and I am very excited that GODSEND will be screened in Yackandandah on Saturday November 13th (in the Uniting Church Hall, so Paddy and his team will be able to use the "we suffered for our art, and now it's your turn" line :-)

Can't wait to see the finished product!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Milestone :-)

Today I had a rather good piano lesson. Jenny, my teacher, was very pleased with my progress, and the way I had mastered most of the pieces she had given me to play with last week. (She said that my 'Cops and Robbers' was especially sparkly! :-)

So today, marked a milestone in my piano lessons, where I moved from Bastien Piano Basics Book 1, into the more complex territory of Bastien Piano Basics Book 2 (the blue book, for those of you, who like a certain friend of mine, can remember learning from these books as a child! :-P)

I'm still really enjoying my lessons, and can see the progress I'm making in lots of ways, and I'm still working at practising - of course having the piano in the lounge room has really helped with this, as often I find myself tickling the ivories late at night, which I wouldn't be able to do if I had to go to the church to use the piano there.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Taste and see...

On Mon-Wed this week, I attended our Presbytery Retreat, at Feathertop Chalet in Harrietville. There were about 20 people from around the Presbytery, most of us ministers, but also a few spouses and other lay people who came along for the journey.

The theme of the retreat was "Taste and See", and we got to do that both metaphorically, through the wonderful guided reflections facilitated by Rev. Joan Wright-Howie from the CTM, and also literally, thanks to the great food provided by the lovely Janette Smith.


In our first session, Joan gave us all a white porcelain plate and a lump of modelling clay, and asked us to use the clay to help us reflect on 'what's on my plate?'. In our introductions, we all said that we had come ot the retreats out of times of busy-ness or stress, and so it was good to find a creative way to represent all the things we had 'on our plates', both from church, and other sources.

At various times during the retreat, we came back to our plates, as a focus for reflection; at one stage removing the things we would like to have 'off our plates', or things that we could remove, and then, with empty (or near-empty) plates, reflecting on the questions: "What do I long to have on my plate?" and, "What is God's longing for me to have on my plate?"

At the end of the retreat, we totally cleaned off the plate, and used enamel paints to represent our responses to these two questions on the plate. It was great to be a little bit creative, especially for those of us who are not artists, and as we later shared our plates, and what they represented, in the group, there were some very special moments. Here is my plate (click on the image to enlarge for detail).



In addition to the plates, throughout the retreat, there were various art supplies available for us to use in any of our silent sessions, in order to express our responses to the prayer exercises that we had been doing, or the Scriptures we had been reflecting on.

In one of the early sessions, I chose 2 Cor 11:26-28 as my focus passage (from three suggestions, I didn't just pluck it out of the air), and after spending some time in a Lectio Divina style of prayer reflection on the verses, I tried to express some of my feeling response to the passage using coloured pencils and construction paper. Here is the result.



In another session, following the theme of tasting, eating, hungering, I used pastels to represent my response to the question, "what are you hungering for?"



In yet another session, I spent some time reflecting on the acrostic Psalm 34 (ie in the original Hebrew, each verse of the Psalm commences with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order, from the beginning). Joan had given us a number of translations of this psalm, from various books, some of which were actually written in English in acrostic form.

The version that caught my eye, though, was one that was written in the traditional church chant style, with a communal response that was to be said between each of the verses (the response not actually being part of the psalm). The response in this psalm was:

With the strings that are taut with pain
compose new music of joy.

In a way I find really hard to explain, those words just took my breath away. After a week that was probably one of the most physically busy and emotionally exhausting that I'd experienced for a long time, but in which there was also a very strong sense of God's presence and the joy of God's spirit buoying me up (see my previous entry), these words really spoke to me about how to endure the hard times (not only for me personally, but as a ministry tool to assist others).


So, all in all, the retreat was a pretty special time, and very welcome refreshment to my soul.


The observant among you, dear readers, will probably note a theme coming through in the artwork that I created during the retreat- lots of swirls and bold, sweeping strokes/lines.

At some stage, when I get the chance, I will post a separate entry to explain the symbolism of my plate, which might help you to understand where my head and hand were at in creating these designs.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A sense of lightness

... and that's not only because Daylight Savings started this morning (but I must say that it was rather splendid to still have bright sunshine after 6:30pm this evening! :-)

Today marks the end of a very busy and emotionally draining week. Some of the adventures I had included an aged care service, an afternoon at the prison, a funeral in the church and subsequent burial for a man who died by suicide, and a graveside service for the interment of ashes of a woman whose family dynamics were complicated to say the least, as well as the 'normal' Sunday morning worship (and of course all of the preparation for these events. I worked out that for the interment of ashes service, I would have spent almost 10 hours on all of the pastoral visits, phone calls, travel, preparation and the service itself- and lots of prayer!)

I'm very relieved that it's all over, and the stress and responsibility, especially of the two funeral-type services, is now past. However, I can't help but feel a sense of awe. Firstly because it's always an incredible privilege to share part of the journey with folks who are raw and vulnerable in their grief. It's a very precious and sacred space to be in, and I never take this privilege lightly.

But more than this, I was also very conscious of the Spirit's guidance and presence, buoying me up through it all. At various times during the week I felt physically and emotionally exhausted, at times forgetting what day it was, because so much was happening on so many different fronts. However, at these two services, there was a sense of God's presence and mercy in it all, as I struggled to find the right words to bring comfort and hope to people mourning a sudden and unexpected death at one service, and aiming to provide a respectful and dignified farewell to a woman, in the presence of her extended family, most of whom weren't able to make it to a memorial service held earlier.

In both cases, there was the possibility of things getting out of my control (through the contributions of others), but on the day, I was conscious of a sense of calm, as if God's Spirit was hovering over us all, like a warm blanket, smothering any potential flames.

I received heartfelt thanks from the families in both cases, and also some positive feedback from others, and I am happy with how things went in both instances, and give thanks to God for the strength to get through it all on the coat-tails of his grace :-)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tiptoe through the minefields...

Today I had two pastoral visits relating to 'funerals' (or more precisely, one was for a funeral and burial, and the other was for an interment of ashes, which will need to include elements of a funeral, given that the earlier 'memorial service' was apparently a little lacking in some elements of pastoral 'farewell' ritual).

The funeral service and burial are for a man who tragically took his own life, and his family and friends are still in shock, and trying to come to terms with not only the fact that he killed himself, but also the method he chose.

The interment of ashes is for a woman whose daughters don't get on with her (second) husband. I therefore spent over two hours today with the woman's brother and sister-in-law getting the gist of family politics, and working with them on a strategy to (hopefully) ensure that proceedings are beneficial and pastoral for all concerned, and to find a creative way for the daughters and husband to be involved in the ritual in appropriate ways, without anyone feeling sidelined or disenfranchised.

I think we managed to work something out, and now wait to see if the other parties agree to our suggestions.

I suspect that this might be one of the trickiest pastoral situations that I've had to deal with to date, but as always, am very grateful to God for the privilege of journeying with people in their grief and pain at such times, and pray that I might be able to help pour some oil on the troubled waters of these difficult relationships.

All of that, and I got to drive over 100km today, on a most magnificently sparkling spring day, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world! Have I mentioned recently how much I love my job? :-)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Well, I never!

Warning: the subject matter of this blog entry involves extremely poor taste, so don't read if you're easily offended!

This afternoon, I felt very pleased with myself that as I pulled up to the Aussie Post mail box at the end of my street to post a letter, just on 4pm, that I got there just as the Aussie Post man arrived to clear it, so my letter just made it into tonight's mail (yay).

However, after I returned to my car, getting ready to take off to Wangaratta for a pastoral visit, I noticed that, as the fellow (who, not unlike myself, was rather generously proportioned) bent down to open up the mailbox, he exposed to the world (and to my unsuspecting eyes) a more than normally over-generous "tradesman's crack". In fact, I wouldn't call it a mere crack, but rather a good half of both his buttocks were exposed quite blatantly- so much so, that I could see that he was wearing some kind of G-string.

(If you are currently gagging, and going, "EEWWWW!!!", don't say I didn't warn you!)

I was rather gobsmacked, having never seen such a display in such a context before, and like a train wreck, whilst I knew that decency dictates that I should look look away, I just could not.

Fortunately, after a bit of a struggle, he finally managed to empty the mailbox, close it up, and then straighten up, so that his shirt once again covered his buttocks (because his shorts sure didn't!), and the train-wreck spell was broken (along with my brain), so I was finally able to start my car and drive away.

The mental image was kind of burned into my brain for a bit, but I was glad of a lovely spring afternoon which made for a pleasant drive to Wang, with some good music keeping me company on the car stereo, to soothe me along the way.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Phew!

The weekend just past was pretty full-on. The choir I sing with, the Beechworth Singers, was part of a special 'Three Choirs Festival' (working with the Wangaratta Choristers and Murray Conservatorium Choir) to present two performances of Orff's Carmina Burana, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and Handel's Zadok the Priest. We had one performance on Saturday afternoon in Wangaratta, and the second on Sunday afternoon in Wodonga.

The music was fabulous. I love Carmina- it's such a great yell ;-), and whilst I strugged initially with the Bernstein, it did grow on me; so much so that now I would swoon as I tell you how gorgeous it is.

My weekend was pretty much consumed by the Three Choirs things, with a rehearsal in Wang on Sat morning from 10am to 12noon, with a break for lunch, then the performance at 2:30pm. After this I had the chance to catch up with an Anglican colleague who had been based in Beechworth for a while, and who is now in Wang, and we enjoyed a very decadent dinner together at Rinaldi's (which he tells me is the place to eat in Wangaratta). After this, I went home and put some finishing touches on my sermon for the next morning.

Sunday started out as a normal Sunday, with worship in Beechworth and Yackandandah. For various reasons, I was running a little late in getting to Beechworth, so they started without me (maybe I should have just left them to it! :-). Now my normal routine on a Sunday afternoon on this side of my ministry patch is to put my feet up and have a bit of a nanna nap after lunch, but this was not to be this week!

I had to hot-foot it to Wodonga straight after worship at Yack (although I did stop at Maccas for some lunch en route to the Civic Centre). We had a warm up, and then the second performance (which went even better than Saturday's, and had a slightly larger audience, it seemed). By the time the concert was over, I was whacked, but had to make a stop in Yack on my way home for a pastoral visit to plan a funeral I will be conducting on Friday.

So, after heading out on Sunday before 9am, I arrived home around 7pm; tired but happy. It was a great weekend, but I was sure glad that I had a day off on Monday to recover (and have to confess to having a bit of an afternoon doze in front of the TV in the recliner of comfyness).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Latest email update

On Tuesday I sent out a well overdue news update (which was titled the Special "I have not been flooded" edition).

Executive Summary (more detail below)

* Floods! – As most of Victoria is experiencing floods at the moment, and I understand that Myrtleford has even featured in the news, I want to reassure all my friends that I am ok and the water hasn’t come anywhere near my place, and the town has so far come through things relatively unscathed. We have a number of roads out of town closed, including the Great Alpine Rd heading towards Wangaratta, but from what I’ve heard only a very few people have been required to evacuate their homes.

* Ordination and Induction – Gosh, it has been ages since I’ve been in touch. I was ordained as a Minister of the Word at Sandy Bay Uniting Church (my ‘home’ congregation) on Saturday, April 24, and then was formally inducted into the placement where I had been serving for the previous 15 months or so on Saturday, June 5, at Beechworth.

* The Piano! – I made a new year’s resolution to start learning the piano this year, and so I have now been learning for about 6 months, under the eagle eye of my next-door neighbour. As a kind of ordination gift to myself, I bought myself a pre-loved piano, which now sits very happily in my lounge room.

* Ministry – After being here now for around 18 months, it finally feels like I’m settled in and am starting to get to know people and places, and feel a bit like a local.

The Gory Details
(for those of you who want it all… make a cuppa, put your feet up, and enjoy :-)

* Floods! – I have been touched by the number of people who have called, texted or emailed to express concern and see how I’m going. It’s really great to feel a part of a wider network of people in the wider church, who care in such simple but significant ways. It seems that the media have been depicting the situation in Myrtleford as being a ‘disaster’, which is far from the truth. Myrtleford has had relatively little real damage, and whilst a number of roads are closed due to water, and some places on the river side of the main road have been affected by the flood waters, the reality is, that it’s business as usual for most of Myrtleford.

I was slightly alarmed to receive an ‘evacuate to higher ground now’ message at 11pm on Sat, but this didn’t turn out to be necessary, as my place is far enough from the river to have been safe so far. (and the venue people were told to evacuate to is only across the road from my place, so I think I’m safe). I was grateful, however, for a visit from my next door neighbour at midnight who called in to check that I was ok, and reassure me that there was no need to evacuate.

On Sunday I was still high and dry, but there was evidence around town of the floods, in closed roads, and a smaller than usual congregation at church, as some folks couldn’t get into town due to water on the roads. There have also been some properties flooded on the opposite side of the river to the main part of town (and of course, these are the impressive ‘flood shots’ that have made it into the newspapers, and caused TV newscasters to say inaccurate and untrue things like “in Myrtleford most of the town is underwater”.)

I included photos that I took on Sunday afternoon when I went for a wander around town in a previous blog post, but the bottom line is that I am ok, and so far have not had any calls for pastoral assistance yet (although today I did receive a notice from the Victorian Emergency Chaplaincy Network that they may need to deploy chaplains to some areas, so I am on alert to respond to that).

* Ordination and Induction – It seems like so long ago now, but after much anticipation (and close to 7 years of discernment, preparation, study and ministry practice), I was finally ordained as a Minister of the Word in April. It was great to have so many people present on the day who had shared in so many different parts of my life over the years. Following the ordination, I had two weeks’ holiday around Tas, and enjoyed catching up with various friends in Hobart, Poatina, Launceston and Deloraine. It was a great time, and very relaxing after a busy beginning of the year. And even now, months later, I still think it’s funny when people call me Reverend.

Because of the vagaries of the intern phase, and to maintain the polity of the Uniting Church, it was necessary for me to be formally inducted (as an ordained minister) into my current placement, and this happened in Beechworth in June. It was great to have members of the Beechworth Singers (the choir I sing with) singing an item in the service. It was also rather historic, as the only induction service I will ever have where I will already know what I am letting myself in for.

* The Piano! – I’ve really been enjoying learning to play the piano this year. My next door neighbour, Jenny, is a music teacher, and has taken me on as a student, and I have been going great guns. Getting my own piano has made it much easier and more enjoyable to practise (and lack of close neighbours means I can thump out my scales at any hour of the day or night without worrying about being anti-social). The piano is a beautiful little pre-loved Kawai, that is about 20-30 years old (the info I was able to find on the internet said that this model was manufactured during the 1980s), and in excellent condition. The cabinet is black and shiny, and looks brand new, and it has a lovely sound, and is delightful to play.

I also made my public performance ‘debut’ last Friday night, at a musical evening organised by some folks from Beechworth church. So, in front of an audience of about 25 people (which included half a dozen or so really good pianists) I took my courage in hand and played two small pieces from my “Bastien Piano Basics, Book 1”. Needless to say, my offerings were not the most musically satisfying pieces of the evening, but they were mercifully brief :-). And of course, even though I had both pieces note-perfect at home when I practised and practised them, I did make a few mistakes, and fluffed some notes when I got in front of an audience. Talk about nerve-wracking! But people were generally very positive and affirming that I was brave enough to have a go.

* Ministry – Well, I continue to settle into the life of a country minister (and am feeling more and more like my alter-ego, the Vicar of Dibley- sometimes more than others! :-). I have found that as far as pastoral services go, I have conducted MANY funerals (a total of 15 in the 18mths since I arrived), only one baptism (although a second is coming up later this month, with the promise of two more in the not too distant future) and no weddings as yet.

I’ve also noticed over winter that the colder weather seems to be the busy season for funerals, as I guess older and less well people don’t cope quite so well with the colder weather (esp as we had a REAL winter this year, which I’m told is normal, unlike the milder conditions of last winter). I have also had the privilege of sitting by the bedside of a number of dying people, having been called in by the aged care facility to provide pastoral care for the resident and their families. It’s a great privilege to be there at this very significant time, even if the person is not able to communicate very well, but I am confident that they are aware of my presence, as I can detect responses in the changes to their breathing or facial expressions.

I am being very well supported by great teams of lay leaders on both sides of my ministry patch, and am working to help build these folk up in their skills and confidence to fulfil their roles as leaders of their congregations.

I have also ventured into a new area, of prison chaplaincy, with some initial visits to Beechworth correctional facility (under the guidance of the UCA prison chaplain coordinator). Last week I had my official security orientation and photo taken for my security pass, so soon I will be flying solo in the prison for the equivalent of 3hrs/week.

So, in general, things are going swimmingly, and I am still loving my ministry here in the lovely north east of the state.

* Bits and Pieces - In other news, I am looking forward to another trip to the Benedictine Community of New Norcia in WA in November (as a combination of R&R after the Beechworth Celtic Pilgrimage, and some study leave- so much theology to read, so little time!). I can’t wait to get back to the peace and quiet of New Norcia and catch up with the monks there and enjoy some time with them in their peaceful routine of prayer, work and rest.

Also, I am in the process of applying for a passport (my first one ever!) as Mum and I are going on an 11 day holiday to New Zealand in Dec/Jan. It will be the first time ‘overseas’ for both of us, so I thought I would start off gently, and gradually build up to going farther afield. (I have a friend from Melb who recently moved to the south of France, so I am hoping to get to visit him and his partner at some stage in the not too distant future too).

Well, I think that’s enough for you to digest now. I hope this finds you well and happy, and do let me know how you’re getting on, I do love receiving letters, emails etc.

Love and best wishes, Caroxxoo

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Where is Noah when you need him?

This weekend, much of Victoria has been hit with wild weather, lots of rain, wind, and parts of the state have been flooded, including the north-east. Yesterday morning (Sat) I received an emergency message from the SES via text and landline message warning that the whole Ovens River catchment (in which Myrtleford is located) was on flood alert.

OK... so that made up my mind about NOT driving to Kyneton on Sun afternoon for a meeting on Monday.
After that, the day passed like a fairly normal Saturday, with me pottering around, getting ready for Sunday worship, and then in the late evening (11pm, to be precise) I received another SMS from the SES, with instructions to "evacuate to high ground now". GREAT....

So I did all the right things, filled up some containers with water, in case the worst came to the worst, and gathered together all the bits and pieces I needed for an emergency, (torch, chocolate, bottle of gin, you know the kind of thing :-) just in case... and then checked out the Bureau Of Meteorology website to see what it had to say about flood warnings in this area.
At this point I wasn't really alarmed, as my house is not particularly close to the river, and according to the BOM, the flood level was only at about 3.6m and steady, so I figured I would be ok.

Around midnight, I had a visit from my next door neighbour, who said he saw my light on, and wanted to check I was ok, and to reassure me that if I heard his car leaving it was NOT because he and the family were evacuating and leaving me behind, but rather that he was off to check on another friend who lived close to the river, to see if he needed help with anything. So he also reassured me that, since the SES had advised people in the town to evacuate to the senior citizens' hall (which is across the road from our houses), he figured that we would be pretty safe.


This morning I awoke to discover that I was still here, and had not floated away (and that my bed had not become a water bed overnight). However, there was a significant amount of water over many roads in town and just out of town, resulting in some people from church not being able to get into town for worship this morning (and boy, was I grateful that I only had to get to Myrtleford this morning for worship!)

This afternoon I had to go to a meeting in Beechworth, but as the Great Alpine Road heading towards Wangaratta was closed, I ended up going to Beechworth via Yackandandah (after I stopped laughing at the SES guy who suggested I go via Stanley. That road is scary enough in good conditions- no way was I going to risk it today!). The round trip was about 70-80km out of my way, but I got there and back in one piece, so I didn't really mind.


This afternoon, I took my camera out and about in town, and took some photos of the flooded roads etc (can't be bothered captioning them- check my Facebook profile, or ask me if you want more details).
Enjoy! :-)


Friday, September 03, 2010

My debut as a pianist!

Tonight we had a 'musical evening' in the home of a couple from Beechworth. About 25 people attended, many of whom contributed to the evening's entertainment by playing the piano, clarinet, mouth organ or singing, and a great time was had by all.

With the encouragement of my piano teacher, I tentatively put my hand up to play a couple of pieces that I have been learning (both from Bastien Piano Basics, Book 1, so we're talking very simple here, folks).

I introduced my pieces by explaining that I have been learning piano for about 5-6 months, and so am still a beginner, but figured that if I waited till I was really good before playing in front of other people, we would all be waiting a long time indeed!

So, with my courage in hand, I sat down to play my two little pieces, and even though I had them perfect in practice at home, I did make a few mistakes; fluffing a few notes, and failing to observe the dynamics and phrasing as well as I had at home. But all in all, it went down well, and people commented on how well I'm going after learning for such a short time (and how gutsy it was for me to have a go in front of an audience that contained about half a dozen REALLY good pianists. When one of these said he needed a partner to play a duet with him, my enthusiastically tongue-in-cheek offer to do it brought the house down :-)

So, I can now say I have made my public performance debut on the piano, and as Margaret and Joe are planning to host these events on a regular basis, they said they look forward to tracking my progress, as I present different and more complex pieces over time.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some days are diamonds

... and today was definitely worth quite a few carats.

Because tomorrow is a Sunday off for me, today was a leisurely Saturday, without the pressure of last minute preparations for Sunday worship. It also just so happened that the boys from Suade were in this neck of the woods, leading a community vocal workshop in Yackandandah this morning.

I knew, as I broke out of the grey sky and dreary, foggy mists into blue sky and bright, sparkly sunshine, about half way along the road to Yack, that this was going to be a good day.

The workshop was a lot of fun. I'd never seen Suade perform live before, so it was great to be there as they shared a couple of songs with the group, as well as getting us moving, singing and workshopping our own little song (the documentary evidence of which will eventually find its way onto Suade's YouTube channel).

After a pleasant lunch, and a quick catch up with some of the locals in the main street, I tootled out to Yamaroo (the local aged care hostel) for a theological discussion group. We are currently reading Val Webb's book, Like Catching Water in a Net, and discussing a couple of chapters at a time. Today's discussion covered topics ranging from the spirit of God (incorporating a quick look at trinitarian theology and some of the heresies relating to this), to ways of knowing God (or not) through nature; then we put the kettle on, and got off the book and onto other topics, like the state of Australian politics, various family dramas, interesting TV shows (mostly relating to the recent election coverage), just to name a few.

I love meeting with these three women; together we are quite an eclectic group, so our discussion is never dull or predictable. As we grapple together with questions of meaning and theology, I am reminded of why I loved studying Systematic Theology so much when I was at theological college.

The process of deliberately engaging one's intellect with one's faith is not easy, but is somehow envigorating and exciting, so I left Yack today with a definite spring in my step, and a song in my heart (perhaps left over from this morning's workshop).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I know I've said this before, but...

Sometimes God's sense of timing and making things hang together is truly amazing and unexpected.

Today in worship, I preached on the Gospel passage (Luke 12:49-56), borrowing very heavily from the excellent sermon on Bruce Prewer's site for this week. The main thrust was when Jesus said that he came not to bring peace, but division, it meant that Jesus' followers are therefore not promised an easy life.

Prewer's tack, which I followed, spoke of 'Rosy Christians',

... who are convinced that trusting in Christ results in a charmed life. Rosy Christians claim that believers receive good health, good friends, happy families, popularity and financial prosperity. They will be spared in drought or flood, protected for road accidents, and healed from any diseases. Their church, where the full Gospel is preached, will also be rosy; flourishing and well respected in the community.

... and proceeded to say why this attitude to the faith, (where these Rosy Christians insist that if only one has enough faith, or prays enough, they will be spared from any bad things, or healed from any ill) is not only unhelpful, but is in fact unfaithful to Christ. Because bad things
do happen to good people, even Christians, because being a Christian doesn't give us a 24 hour protection policy against any bad things happening to us; and that God never promises that we won't experience dark valleys in life, but that the promise is that God will be with there with us, supporting and loving us through the hard times.

So, on the day that I preach this message, we have in the congregation, visitors, including:
* a couple visiting from Marysville, who lost their home in the Black Saturday fire,
* a former minister of the congregation, who had to retire early from ministry due to a brain tumour which is now terminal,

and among the regular members of the congregation:
* a local couple who lost their home, and almost lost their lives, on Black Saturday, (and also lost a son to an AIDS-related illness some years ago)
* two women who have survived breast cancer
* a couple whose son was killed in a freak farm accident
... just to name a few.

As I was thinking about all this later today, I couldn't help but wonder how these people heard the words that were spoken, and the Word that was preached, today.

My job is to preach it, and then get out of the way to let the Spirit do with the words what she will.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Further to my rant...

After I penned the rant for the church pew sheet (which BTW has generated a number of positive comments from various people in the congregations. I just hope that if anyone was annoyed or offended by it, they will also tell me, so I can get a realistic idea of where people's sensibilities and sensitivities lie on such matters), I edited it down to a version fit for wider consumption and acceptable length to be a 'Letter to the Editor'.

I sent the Letter to a number of papers, including
The Age, the Border Mail, and the local rag and was delighted to see it published (untouched by sub-editor's red pen) in the Myrtleford Times (and presumably all the other North East Newspapers).

Quite rapt.

(if you click on the pic of the article, it will open in a new window, in a more readable form :-)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

My pew sheet blurb for this week- an election rant

As a minister, I have to be careful not to use the pulpit to push my own agendas inappropriately, but at the same time, I am called (as we all are) to be a prophet, standing up and speaking out for justice.

One of the problems in a ‘majority rules’ democracy is that unfortunately, the majority is not always right. We saw this in Jesus’ time, when he was often a lone voice speaking out against corruption, and what he said was so countercultural that we read a number of times in the gospels that the crowd was so angry at what he said, that they sought to kill him. We saw this phenomenon again in Nazi Germany, and I believe we are seeing it again here in Australia over the issue of asylum seekers.

I have been personally distressed and disgusted by the election campaigns of both major parties, that have included in their main ‘policy platforms’ (insofar as either party actually HAS any real policy), the promise to ‘tighten border security’ or ‘stop the boats’. When I first saw these ads on TV, I was outraged, and started ranting to anyone who stood still long enough, “Where is the compassion and justice in this?!” (and as Christians we all know that the Bible is full of requirements for God’s people to act justly, and to especially care for the vulnerable, like widows, orphans and foreigners, so I feel quite justified in my anger here).

In reading some stats provided by a member of our Synod Justice and International Mission (JIM) Unit: only 0.1% of people entered Australia by boat in the last year; refugee and humanitarian visas make up just 0.03% of all visas granted last year; we have had just over 23,000 come by boat in the past 35 years, it is obvious that we are not exactly being overrun by boat people, and over 90% of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat over the past few years were found to be genuine refugees, so one has to ask, what are we afraid of?

It seems both parties are appealing to what a friend of mine described as, “some very nasty aspects of the Australian psyche - those phobias against almost any ‘not us’ group you can name.” That same friend lamented the fact that churches and religious organisations are not speaking out about this. This prompted me to see what the Uniting Church has been doing in the area, as well as sending an email to our Moderator, Isabel Thomas Dobson, and President Alistair Macrae, encouraging them both to be bold in speaking out on this topic on behalf of the church.

The results of this were a mixed bag. First, I found a great resource prepared by the Assembly to inform UCA people about the hot issues of this election. The info kit is called ‘Building an Economy for Life’, and can be downloaded from the Assembly website at http://nat.uca.org.au/election2010.html. There are also various issues papers that can be downloaded separately.

Both Alistair and Isabel responded to my email (in less than 24 hours!) with equal frustration. It seems the media are not interested in what the church has to say about these issues, they are too busy pandering to the ‘majority view’. Alistair commented, “Easier said than done to get media interest in our perspectives but we try,” and Isabel also sent me the text of a letter to the editor she sent to The Age and the Hobart Mercury, commenting on the election campaign generally, which was not published in either paper.

So what can we do? We can pray that justice will be done; we can write to our local candidates, expressing our concerns; we can become informed, and talk to anyone who will listen about the issues, and how the values of justice, mercy and compassion would have us respond.

Here endeth the rant.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The preciousness of solidarity

Tonight I had dinner with a family from one of my congregations. There are three sons in this family, the oldest is about to turn 21, and the youngest is about 17 or 18. They are delightful young men who seem to have somehow found the balance between being tough, country blokes, and gentle, thoughtful young men.

The reason I was asked over for dinner, was to talk to the boys (and as it turned out, also 2 of their friends) about grief.

On Saturday night, all three of the boys were at a 21st birthday party about 2 hours' drive from home, and on the way home, one of the friends they were travelling in convoy with had an accident and was killed. He was 21.

The five young people at dinner tonight were the first ones at the scene, and now have the bond of that shared experience. This evening I observed the 5 of them talking to each other about Saturday night; things that happened at the party, the conversations they'd had with other people from their circle of friends who needed to be informed of this boy's death, the reactions of various people to the news, and some of their own memories of the boy who died.

After we finished eating the mother of the household asked me to say a few words to the kids about the processes of grief, and what might be in store for them as time moves on, which I did. But the bottom line was that they have already been doing what is necessary and healthy for them at this stage of things - talking to each other about what happened, and how they feel about it all.

The relationships that they share with one another, and others in their peer group in the local area are quite close, and I think this shared experience will bring these 5 even closer. The level of solidarity and support they have shown for each other is something of which I think much older and more experienced adults would be envious.

It was a great privilege to spend some time with these young people, and I'm proud of how they're dealing with this very painful and difficult experience.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More on Ordination

I have now been a Reverend for nearly 4 weeks.

My, how time flies!
It still feels weird when people refer to me as "Rev", but I guess I'll get used to that soon enough.

I thought it's probably about time to post some pictures of the ordination service for those of you, dear readers, who haven't already seen these on my Facebook profile.
(and I thank the lovely Michael Kregor and Barry Liersch, who took these photos during the service).








Sharing my story






























Making my vows























Ordination by prayer and the laying on of hands.




















"... accept this stole as a sign of the joyful obedience you owe to Christ."




























The Rev Caro Field, enjoying the moment.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Sermon for April 25 (Psalm 23; John 10:22-30; Revelation 7:9-17)

The 4th Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as ‘Shepherd Sunday’. From listening to the lectionary readings we heard this morning, you will note they all have a shepherd theme:
- The Revelation reading speaks of the ‘lamb that was slain’, becoming the shepherd of those who have been through a great ordeal;
- in John we see Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep, and they know his voice, and the assurance that they will never be snatched away from God.
- and then we come to Psalm 23, which for many is the ultimate word on shepherding and shepherds.

Psalm 23 is one of the best known passages in the whole Bible- familiar to people both within and beyond the church. In fact, I’ll bet most of you would be able to recite Ps 23- whether in its entirety, or in part. It’s little wonder, then, that this Psalm is very popular as a reading at funerals, and in fact, of the dozen or so funerals I have conducted since I’ve been in ministry, probably 4-5 of them have had Ps 23 as one of the readings.

In the context of funerals we often focus on the verse (in the old language): “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. The direct reference to death can bring comfort to those people who are experiencing the harsh reality of the death of a loved one. In fact the psalm as a whole is a psalm of comfort, and this is partly due to its familiarity, because, let’s face it, if we are going through a difficult time, don’t we derive comfort from the familiar?

But, outside of that context, is there the danger of familiarity breeding contempt? We know the words of the psalm, but how much of the meaning sinks in whenever we hear, read, or rattle off the words? This is one reason why I chose a translation of Psalm 23 in unfamiliar words to be read today; to get you thinking about what the psalm is actually saying. (the translation from the original Hebrew text is by the Jewish Publication Society of America, rendered fairly recently, in the 1970s)*.

So, as we chew over these unfamiliar words of a familiar psalm, I want to focus on v. 4: the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ line. In the reading we just heard, this verse reads: “Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm.” If we take it out of the funeral context into the context of our own life and experience, what does it have to say to us?

Whatever translation we look at, the language is highly symbolic, and the more traditional “valley of the shadow of death” is meant to represent the worst possible times of life- not necessarily limited to literal death. Because, death is not always the worst, or most difficult thing that can happen. During my life, I have had two friends who suffered from long-term depression, and eventually committed suicide- one fairly recently, just over a year ago, and the other about 10 years ago. For them, death was not the worst thing, because by their reckoning death was preferable to the living hell they were experiencing in their depression. So, to associate this verse with literal death, can in some ways, rob it of some of its meaning, and to instead use the term, “valley of deepest darkness” can thus encompass a wider range of human experience than just the fear of death. Something else that is important to note in this psalm is the different ways in which the psalmist refers to, and addresses God. At the beginning and the end of the psalm, we see a more formal form of address, referring to ‘the Lord’, and ‘he’; effectively speaking about God. However in the middle, in vv. 4-5, the psalmist speaks to God directly, addressing God as ‘you’ (eg, “you are with me… you prepare a table…” etc).

And this more personal and intimate form of address comes precisely at the point of greatest danger (in the dark valley; in the presence of enemies). This speaks of intimacy and a personal relationship of trust between the psalmist and the shepherd he or she trusts; and that trust in the Lord’s provision and protection is not just something the psalmist knows about, but is part of a personal experience, emanating from a personal, intimate relationship with the Lord. It is this trust and relationship that allows the psalmist not to fear.

Now, this is all very well for the psalmist (whether King David, or someone else) all those years ago, but what does it mean for us today?

I want to tell you a story about my friend, Mark. Before I start, I need to tell you that he has given me permission to share this part of his story with you . When I asked him about it, he said, “I’ve never featured in sermon before… it’s like being an extra in Neighbours”. I’m not quite sure what experience he has as an extra on Neighbours, but he has given me permission to share his experiences with you
(and to publish it on my blog).

I first met Mark when I was working with Fusion in Sydney, and he played in a band that we used in some of our outreach work, and the band rehearsed in our drop in centre for a while. I got to know Mark, and the other guys in the band, we became friends, and I went to some of their gigs in local pubs (and discovered on one of these occasions, that in the 80s it was not the done thing to order a mineral water at Wentworthville pub- in the western suburbs of Sydney).

I remember Mark as a talented singer/songwriter/muso, and a deep thinker; what I would describe as an artistic soul. Around the time I moved to Hobart, about 20 years or so ago, I lost touch with Mark.

Recently, about a week or two ago, I received a message from Mark via Facebook. Now I know that some people scoff at the social networking websites like Facebook and Myspace, but I have found Facebook to be very useful in keeping in touch with people I don’t see very often, and in fact, a number of people who attended my ordination service yesterday wouldn’t have been there if not for contact via Facebook.

So, hearing from Mark was a delightful ‘blast from the past’, and we have exchanged a number of messages over the past week or two, sharing some of what’s been happening since we last saw each other.

His comment was, “I’ve been around the universe and back since we last met”.
- In the late 80s/early 90s, he was on the verge of rock stardom, with a recording contract.
- Then he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (manic depression) and was subsequently sued by the record company when he was unable to honour his contract with them due to his illness.
- He ‘lost’ his marriage, and spent around 10 years living as what he describes as ‘a mad hermit’, isolated, alone and feeling like he was on the verge of losing his mind.
- He later formed a new relationship, and subsequently ‘lost’ that,
- and sometime in all of this he also walked away from his relationship with God.

I am convinced that in all this, Mark experienced first-hand what it is to ‘walk through a valley of deepest darkness’ (perhaps even more than one valley). He commented about his illness, that when he was younger, he tended to be more manic, but as he gets older, he tends to be more depressed (something he has become a little philosophical about as he contemplates turning 50 later this year).

For a long and painful 10 years (or maybe longer) Mark’s life was lived in the darkest valleys, and he felt very alone and miserable. About a year or two ago, he started to come out of the downward spiral (I think he saw losing that subsequent relationship as a kind of ‘wake up call’, and started to take positive steps to reclaim his life). So life is gradually starting to look up for Mark, and part of this process, has involved him recognising God’s love and presence, and walking back into the loving embrace of the Father.

Life is still not easy for Mark, and he still has his times of darkness, but through it all is the reassurance that he “needs fear no harm, for God is with him”.

Back in my Sydney days, Mark and I were mates; I liked him a lot (and if truth be told, when I was 19-20, I had a bit of a girly crush on him- well, he was tall, dark, handsome and played in a rock band; what is a girl to do?)

When he shared his story with me, I cried when I heard what he’s been through, and is still going through. I wanted to rant at God, and shout, “It’s not fair for one person to suffer so much!” I’m sure that many of you would also have been in situations where you wanted to scream at God because of the unfair suffering of people you know and love.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book about Psalm 23 says these words:
“God’s promise was never that life would be fair. God’s promise was that, when we had to confront the unfairness of life, we would not have to do it alone, for He would be with us.”

This is the message of hope this psalm has for us today. When we go through the darkest, unfairest valleys: of depression, broken relationships, illness or other dark passages of life, we are not alone.

But even more than this, the Shepherd who travels with us is the same Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep, the same ‘lamb that was slain’, who became the shepherd for those who had been through a great ordeal; whose journey to the cross and back means that he knows and understands our pain and loneliness because he has walked through his own dark valleys.

Because of this, we can truly rejoice and join with the psalmist in saying, “Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long years.”

Thanks be to God. ……

* Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me to water in places of repose;
He renews my life;
He guides me in right paths
as befits His name.

Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness;
I fear no harm, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff- they comfort me.

You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long years.

Translation: © 1972, The Jewish Publication Society of America

From Tas...

I'm conscious that I've been a tad silent of late, this is partly because life has been busy for a while, and also because for the last two weeks I have been on holiday in Tasmania, after my ordination, on April 24, and have had intermittent access to the internet and even mobile phone coverage (gotta love Optus mobile coverage in country Tasmania- NOT!)

Anyway, I will eventually get around to blogging about my ordination- and maybe even posting some pics that a friend took and posted to his Facebook site (for those of you who are my FB friends, you will be able to view them on my site, under "Photos of Caro").

The day after my ordination, I was privileged to lead worship at Sandy Bay Uniting Church (my former 'home congregation', from which I candidated, and where the ordination service was held), and in my next post, I will publish my sermon from that occasion (not that I'm in the habit of posting all my sermons to my blog, but I feel that this one was pretty special for a number of reasons).

So there you have it, a brief reminder that I am still alive in teh blogosphere, and a promise that I will eventually get around to blogging about my ordination and holiday sometime Real Soon Now.

Really.

Promise :-)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Today's the day!

Well, after what seems like aeons of discernment, study, formation and ministry practice, today I will be ordained as a Minister of the Word.

As I look out my hotel room window, I note that it is raining in Hobart- which seems to be a bit of a sign (showers of blessing? :-). When my colleague Martin's service of recognition was held in Rochester, about half an hour before the commencement, the heavens opened and it teemed. Almost exactly the same thing happened just before my service of recognition in Myrtleford, and the then chairperson of the Presbytery commented that we interns had brought the rain with us to break the drought in the north east of the state (Vic).

So, rain on a significant occasion seems to be de rigeur and I'm glad to see that the pattern seems to be holding for my ordination day (and can't wait to see if it rains on the day of Martin's ordination too :-)

I have been feeling a tad twitchy with excitement and indescribable emotion for a week or so now, as I have been preparing to come away to Tasmania for this event (and a holiday that follows). When I woke up this morning I cried; but as a dear friend (and Anglican priest) assured me, tears of joy are allowed today, so I guess that's ok.

I have been overwhelmed by people's response to this whole ordination thing. From those who have insisted on travelling long distances (from Sydney and various parts of Victoria, not to mention around Tas) to be here today, and the many emails, Facebook comments and physical cards, gifts etc that I have received from a wide range of people; it's all been a bit much really. One friend even brought her husband and kids over from Melbourne, and we enjoyed some great catch-up time on the boat on Thurs night (and then breakfast at the House of Anvers... mmmm... chocolate :-)

When the room service man from the hotel brought me my breakfast this morning (yes, I know it's decadent to have room service breakfast in a city hotel), his parting comment was, "have a great day". It's not going to be just a great day- it's going to be a stunner!

So I guess I should get off the compter, and jump into it- have to have a shower, and spend a bit more time in prayerful contemplation to prepare for what is to come later in the day.

Wheee! :-)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Flags and Funerals

Before all my Uniting Church clergy readers break out in a cold sweat: don't worry, it's not what you think.

I learned something new yesterday. Myrtleford is a smallish country town, and in the middle of town we have a flag pole which flies the Australian flag.

It is the custom in this town, that whenever there is a funeral in town, regardless of where it is, the flag is lowered to half-mast as a sign of respect and community mourning.

Yesterday, when enjoying a late lunch in a local cafe, I was approached by a woman (who I do know) who happily informed me that her husband is now "the flag man". I must have looked at her blankly, as she then went on to explain that he is the one who is in charge of lowering the flag to half-mast whenever there's a funeral. I must have still looked blankly at her, as she then went on to explain the tradition, and that apparently Myrtleford is the only town in the state that still keeps this tradition, and that the reason she was telling me all this was because in order to lower the flag, her husband needs to know when a funeral is to be held, and the funeral directors she contacted told her to talk to the ministers in the town, rather than them, about passing on this information.

So, after just over a year, and about a dozen funerals under my belt (although not all of these in Myrtleford), I now know about this tradition, and have filed away in my brain (a scary place sometimes) the information that next time I have to conduct a funeral in Myrtleford, I should contact this fellow so he can lower the flag.

So, it seems, you learn something new every day.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

An interesting week

I know I haven't blogged for AGES, mea culpa and all that... but life has been a tad busy.

In the midst of all this busyness, I needed to make a quick observation: this week has been amazing.

Holy Week, traditionally the busiest week of the year in the church, lived up to its traditional reputation, with 5 services (all different, so I couldn't cheat and repeat any) across the weekend from Thurs night to Sun morning. I certainly felt like a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down afterwards (but opted instead for two whole days off! Well I figured if most people got to take a 4-day weekend over Easter, the least I could do was to take a 2-day weekend- being Monday and Tuesday- for a change :-)

Following that, I managed to double-book myself for a funeral on Friday morning, when I already had a hospital service (but for some reason it wasn't in my diary), so survived this by getting a parishioner to take the hospital service- I have always said that my idea of ministry is to encourage people to discover, develop and use their gifts for the Kingdom, so this was a great opportunity to put that into practice.

So having averted a possible disaster from the double-booking, the funeral on Friday went very well, with many many people present to farewell a lady who was a bit of a local legend in the town- well known and much loved. I had the privilege of visiting her in hospital before she died, and her profound faith, and desire to go and be with Jesus was a great inspiration.

Amid all this, though, also came the very sad and shocking news that a lay preacher who had conducted many services for the congregations of Myrtleford, Beechworth and Yackandandah, died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack on Wednesday, only days after leading Easter worship in Beechworth and Yack. I think we're all still pretty stunned. His funeral is on Monday, and I expect it will be a huge and very emotional event.

And now, I am putting the final touches on tomorrow morning's worship for Beechworth and Yack- we are having a special ceremony to welcome some newish people in Beechworth who have decided that they want our congregation to be their spiritual home, so mixed in with the joy of the Easter season and the celebration of the welcoming ceremony, there will be a sombre note as we lament the loss of our friend Norm, who left us so suddenly during the week.

Life in ministry certainly is a mixed bag, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A prayer for today

Today is the anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires. In worship this morning at Myrtleford, we marked this anniversary with a special act of lighting candles of remembrance as part of our prayers of intercession.

Below is the prayer that I used. I wrote the opening preface and the part relating to the lighting of candles, and the rest comes from Uniting in Worship resources.

It was a very special time; emotional, sombre, and I hope, healing, as people hugged each other when they moved to the front of the worship space to light a candle, and returned to their seats.

Loving God,
a year has passed since our community cowered
under the weight of the Black Saturday bushfires.
There have been losses:
of lives,
of homes,
of property,
and of spirit, that has crumbled under the pressure.

There has been hard work:
in adjusting to a new reality,
in cleaning up,
in rebuilding,
and in supporting one another through this time.

Loving God, hear us
as we offer these prayers in love for ourselves and for others.

For those who lack love
because their hurts are too great –
Silence
Through Christ, may we be your friends and servants,
bringers of love and life.

For those who lack hope
because their ideals have been shattered –
Silence
Through Christ, may we be your friends and servants,
bringers of love and life.

For those who lack life
because their weariness is too overwhelming –
Silence
Through Christ, may we be your friends and servants,
bringers of love and life.

As we remember specific people and situations,
for others, and ourselves,
we bring these before God in the symbolic gesture
of lighting a candle.
(people come forward to light tapers)

Fill your people with love, hope and life.
Cause us to celebrate with the joyful,
mourn with the sorrowful,
sit quietly with the weary,
and encourage the eager.
Touch us with the power of resurrection
through Christ our Lord...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Something to remember...

Just over three weeks ago, I had a mole removed from my lower back, because my GP didn't like the look of it and wanted to be on the safe side. As it turned out, the mole was benign, was completely excised, and all was well with the world... or at least so I thought.

When I returned to have the sutures removed, the nurse commented that it was a bit red, but no sign of infection, and I should leave the wound site uncovered to encourage the drying/healing process. Again, all seemed to be going fine...

A week later, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed that the site had been bleeding and weeping, the evidence of which was on my clothes, so after much contorting, I patted it dry as best I could, and put some bandaids over it (one bandaid was not big enough to cover the whole site, so I needed to put two across it). Next morning I rang the surgery and made an appointment (that afternoon) to have the practice nurse take a look at it.

The nurse was a bit uncertain and called in the doctor, who ordered a swab, and prescribed a course of antibiotics, got the nurse to dress it, and told me to come back in a week for the nurse to have another look at it.

The nurse's dressing didn't last as long as she advised me it should have, and when I replaced it after that each day with the particular kind of dressing she recommended, the wound was still bleeding (the fact that it was in such an awkward position on my back that I couldn't really see properly to put the dressing on, meant that on at least one occasion, a bit of the 'sticky' part of the dressing went onto the actual wound site, so when I removed it, it ripped off the top of the scab, and made it bleed even worse).

Also, during the week, the course of antibiotics gave me diarrhoea, which was really pleasant- NOT!

Speaking to my mother the other night, she was astounded that this was going on, as she (a veteran of many mole removals) was adamant that it should have been well and truly all healed up by now. I am also feeling a bit over it all, and the bleeding, the pus, and the fuss.

So today, when I returned to the nurse, she redressed the wound and used a special gel, designed to 'eat' away at the icky bits (a bit like a modern day leech!) so that the wound can heal up cleanly. Back again next Monday, so I hope that this will be the final visit.

All this to-ing and fro-ing has gotten me thinking. The other day, I was whingeing to God about the frustration of the whole process, but then was struck with the thought of how fortunate I am to live in a country where this kind of medical treatment (for what really is a minor thing, in the whole scheme of things) is actually available to me, and I am in a position to afford to access it. And for that I certainly give thanks.

I started thinking of people, like a lady I visited in hospital yesterday, who injure themselves, and take MONTHS to heal from a similarly small and insignificant wound, battling infection after infection and just the lack of healing 'grunt' in their tired and ageing bodies.

I am not doing too badly after all...



Friday, January 22, 2010

Back from holidays

Yes, I'm back from a fortnight of holidays that makes me sound like a bit of a jet-setter. First to Sydney, to visit Mum (and catch up with a few friends), then on to WA for a week with Mum in tow.

We spent 4 days in New Norcia, attended the Ecumenical Carols Service there (the first Christmas service that I didn't have to lead, or do something up front), did some touristy things around town, and then headed to Perth, where we stayed in a rather flash hotel in the CBD for three days.

In Perth we visited Fremantle, shopped till we dropped (well, actually, Mum shopped till I dropped! ;-) visited AQWA, and had my traditional dinner with Adrienne at Han's Cafe in Belmont (something I always have to do when visiting Perth).

Now I've been home for almost a fortnight, and it feels a bit like I was never away. Trying to get back into the regular rhythm of my work and ministry here, when the weather is still screaming "holidays!" is not easy. I have already conducted my first funeral for the year, which takes my total since arriving up to 8, and now I am procrastinating, because selecting hymns for Sunday morning is the thing I find hardest in worship preparation.

However, this week has been rather special, as on Sun evening -Tues arvo, I shared with some fellow-interns in a pre-ordination retreat at the lovely St Julian's Retreat Centre in Cheltenham (Vic). It was good to take some time out to meditate on the ordination vows we will all be making sometime soon, to spend some solid time in silence and prayer, and to share with each other some of the insights that God gave to us during this process.

Wednesday was the funeral (which was a bit emotionally draining, as funerals tend to be), so I spent some time afterwards wombling around Beechworth, and ended up in the old Schoolhouse Craft gallery where I enjoyed a delightful Devonshire Tea, in the back room.

Yesterday was a treat- in the afternoon, Alan and Chantal arrived, en route from Canberra to Melbourne, and I met up with them at the Gapsted cellar door (Alan has been known to buy Gapsted wines from Aldi supermarkets, so it was nice to introduce him to the source). We then enjoyed much fruit of the vine, with some great Tassie cheese, and then dinner at my local. It was great to have them stay here and see even a little of my local patch.

And now, I think it is time to bite the bullet, stop procrastinating, and pick some hymns!