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


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.