Monthly Archives: September 2013

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AVAST & AHOY

 

Last week was Big Mouth Camp and we had a sign and a flag flying outside church to show our support. Eight people from church were counted in the 109 people who turned up to share a weekend of fun and learning. The theme was pirates and, as you can see from the photos, we all entered into the spirit of the occasion.

But what is Big Mouth Camp?

The official spiel says…

The Big Mouth Camp is a residential camp for students from 6 to 15 years of age, who use speech generating devices. The camp is also for their families and carers.

The primary aim of the camp is for the children using the device to improve their device use and become much more competent communicators in a fun and relaxing atmosphere. Intensive communication therapy will be provided each morning and the afternoon will involve activities and opportunities for everyone to practice the skills they have learnt in the morning.

Separate sibling recreation sessions will be conducted in the mornings, and this time will also provide parents/carers to discuss and work on issues around augmentative and alternative communication.

The camp will also be offering mentoring from experienced adult communication device users, training from device manufacturers / support staff, sessions on related disability computer software and much more!

And that is just what it is, all of that and so much more but for those of us who don’t do official statements here is my version of what Big Mouth Camp is.

 

BIG MOUTH CAMP IS…

 

 fun. But far, far more….

 

BIG MOUTH CAMP IS…

 

communicating,

 

adventure,

 

friendship,

 

not relaxing (despite what Jono says),

learning,

 

thinking,

 

and awesome chocolate cake.

BIG MOUTH CAMP can be scary….

 

but more than all these things,

Big Mouth Camp is

A COMMUNITY.

CHEERS!!!

 

and a big thank you to

everyone who made

Big Mouth Camp

possible…

 

from all the Big Mouth Family.

 

That’s some of what Big Mouth is to me.

I cannot thank the Melbourne Welsh Church enough for its generous support (both financially and in terms of prayer and people) of the BMC.

Thank you all.

 


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Scooby Doo – where are you??? Warning there is swearing in this episode.

 

SEPT. 17

 

I used to love Scooby Doo as a child (being honest, I still do) – I can still sing the theme song and love doing a less than recognisable version of his voice.

“If it wasn’t for you pesky (meddling) kids…..” was the line at the end of every episode as the ghost/vampire/werewolf/cloud of multi-coulored gas/witch doctor was un-masked and proved (yet again) to be the old guy we met at the beginning of the episode trying to scare people off and make more money.

I didn’t realise that as I watched Scooby and Shaggy (and later, regrettably Scrappy) and the gang go around in the Mystery Machine defeating bad guys that my theological education had begun.

Far too many people in the world imagine (or are told) that the monsters we see of and hear of are God. All these disasters that befall our world are God’s doing. But if we wait until the end of the episode – every time we have the God-monster cornered we take off the mask and see a human face. God does not do these things. People may claim God does but when we reach up and take off God’s mask – it’s never him. Never ever God.

So here is where I stopped writing yesterday, convinced I’d finish it today and post it…little did I know it would become so relevant over night.

13 people have been killed in a Washington naval yard and yet again the monster is human. I could list a hundred horrors and in each one of them the monster is always human. Looking at the news sites today we see stories of Syria and war crimes, we read of child abuse and murder and in everyone of them the monster behind the horror has a human face.

I’m just waiting to see who will be the first to blame it all on God – God is doing this because…..(insert ridiculously stupid reason here!) Somewhere a fanatical preacher will try and tell anyone who will listen that God has seen the evil of mankind and has visited (insert random disaster/shooting/horror here) upon us as retribution. Am I allowed to say bulls**t? – because that’s what it is.

EDIT – I didn’t have to wait too long – here’e a tweet from Westbro Baptist Church

You commit violence vs God & man @DeptofDefense! Today God repays you to your face! #NavyYardShootings #abortion #war #adultery #sodomy #SSM

After the bushfires of Black Saturday of 2009 Danny Nalliah (pastor of Catch the Fire Ministries) claimed that the bushfires were God’s retribution for the fact that Victoria abolished abortion laws. He offended 1000’s of people with that comment and of course the media picked it up and said this is what the Church is saying.

OF COURSE WE’RE NOT! We’re not saying anything of the sort.

Mr. Nalliah, if you are reading this – stop claiming to speak for the Christians of Australia because I know more than a few Christians who don’t subscribe to your ‘God as an angry, vengeful bastard’ idea. Many of us believe that God is a God of love and not the Eternal Headmaster waiting, looking, eagerly searching for a reason to cosmicly cane us.

By the way, just in passing, this is the same Mr. Nalliah who claimed, in writing, in 2007;

“I will boldly declare that Prime Minister John Howard will be re-elected in the November election (if the Body of Christ unites in prayer and action) and pass the leadership onto Peter Costello sometime after.

I know this prophetic declaration is very controversial, but at this critical crossroad in our nation’s destiny, it’s not time to tickle the ears of man, but to please the Father in Heaven, by boldly proclaiming His Authoritative Word of Righteousness, Justice, and Truth to the Church and Nation!”

Oops!

The Washington naval shootings, the bush fires, 9/11, and any and all the horrors that happen in our world are not God’s divine revenge for something humanity has done wrong.

Learn from Scooby Doo. Reach up and take the mask off – the monster is NEVER God – God is loving and caring, coming to us in the form of Jesus to share our pain not inflict more.

So people ask where is God in all this suffering? – God is right there, in the middle of it, feeling every hurt, sharing every tear – the power behind the hand that help and the voice behind the word that calms. That’s where God is – standing by those in need, calling us to do the same.

 

 

 


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Scooby Doo – where are you??? Warning there is swearing in this episode.

 

I used to love Scooby Doo as a child (being honest, I still do) – I can still sing the theme song and love doing a less than recognisable version of his voice.

“If it wasn’t for you pesky (meddling) kids…..” was the line at the end of every episode as the ghost/vampire/werewolf/cloud of multi-coulored gas/witch doctor was un-masked and proved (yet again) to be the old guy we met at the beginning of the episode trying to scare people off and make more money.

I didn’t realise that as I watched Scooby and Shaggy (and later, regrettably Scrappy) and the gang go around in the Mystery Machine defeating bad guys that my theological education had begun.

Far too many people in the world imagine (or are told) that the monsters we see of and hear of are God. All these disasters that befall our world are God’s doing. But if we wait until the end of the episode – every time we have the God-monster cornered we take off the mask and see a human face. God does not do these things. People may claim God does but when we reach up and take off God’s mask – it’s never him. Never ever God.

So here is where I stopped writing yesterday, convinced I’d finish it today and post it…little did I know it would become so relevant over night.

13 people have been killed in a Washington naval yard and yet again the monster is human. I could list a hundred horrors and in each one of them the monster is always human. Looking at the news sites today we see stories of Syria and war crimes, we read of child abuse and murder and in everyone of them the monster behind the horror has a human face.

I’m just waiting to see who will be the first to blame it all on God – God is doing this because…..(insert ridiculously stupid reason here!) Somewhere a fanatical preacher will try and tell anyone who will listen that God has seen the evil of mankind and has visited (insert random disaster/shooting/horror here) upon us as retribution. Am I allowed to say bulls**t? – because that’s what it is.

EDIT – I didn’t have to wait too long – here’e a tweet from Westbro Baptist Church

You commit violence vs God & man @DeptofDefense! Today God repays you to your face! #NavyYardShootings #abortion #war #adultery #sodomy #SSM

After the bushfires of Black Saturday of 2009 Danny Nalliah (pastor of Catch the Fire Ministries) claimed that the bushfires were God’s retribution for the fact that Victoria abolished abortion laws. He offended 1000’s of people with that comment and of course the media picked it up and said this is what the Church is saying.

OF COURSE WE’RE NOT! We’re not saying anything of the sort.

Mr. Nalliah, if you are reading this – stop claiming to speak for the Christians of Australia because I know more than a few Christians who don’t subscribe to your ‘God as an angry, vengeful bastard’ idea. Many of us believe that God is a God of love and not the Eternal Headmaster waiting, looking, eagerly searching for a reason to cosmicly cane us.

By the way, just in passing, this is the same Mr. Nalliah who claimed, in writing, in 2007;

“I will boldly declare that Prime Minister John Howard will be re-elected in the November election (if the Body of Christ unites in prayer and action) and pass the leadership onto Peter Costello sometime after.

I know this prophetic declaration is very controversial, but at this critical crossroad in our nation’s destiny, it’s not time to tickle the ears of man, but to please the Father in Heaven, by boldly proclaiming His Authoritative Word of Righteousness, Justice, and Truth to the Church and Nation!”

Oops!

The Washington naval shootings, the bush fires, 9/11, and any and all the horrors that happen in our world are not God’s divine revenge for something humanity has done wrong.

Learn from Scooby Doo. Reach up and take the mask off – the monster is NEVER God – God is loving and caring, coming to us in the form of Jesus to share our pain not inflict more.

So people ask where is God in all this suffering? – God is right there, in the middle of it, feeling every hurt, sharing every tear – the power behind the hand that help and the voice behind the word that calms. That’s where God is – standing by those in need, calling us to do the same.

 


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Cyrus or Syria – you decide!

 

Its catch up time. Rebuilding the website took a bit more time than I hoped – so I need to catch up.

 

Here’s the first one –

 

For those who seriously care more about Cyrus that Syria we pray!

 

So it’s a bit out of date but I’m sure most of you remember the fuss about Miley Cyrus and her wonderful exhibition at the MTV awards. If you haven’t seen it you’re not missing much but you can’t have failed to miss the media storm around it.

ANYONE with a Twitter account couldn’t fail to see all the tweets; Facebook was full of it; the press was covered in the pictures and comments.

At the same time a lot of the governments of the world were condemning Syria for chemical weapons attacks (some blame the rebels, some blame the government) but you never would have guessed it from the social media sites. What was there was buried deeply behind the pictures and words about Miley.

Isn’t it awful that many people are more concerned about some  young woman doing some strange dancing than they are about at least 700 people killed by chemic


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YAY! We’re getting better roads…..

SEPT 9 2013

 

In response to wickedness in high places, do good in low places.

So we have a new Prime Minister and if you voted for him or not, he’s in.

Horrifically, however (if you voted for him or not) he intends to slash the foreign aid budget by over $4.5 billion. So for the fact that Kevin and his mates spent a bit much Tony and his mates are going to punish the poorest people in the world.

As it is we only spend 37 cents of every $100 on helping the world’s poor and when we cut that its going to be mainly from the Asia Pacific Region (of which Australia is a part) and where 70% of the world’s poorest people live.

But we can rest assured – Joe Hockey has told us that the money we don’t give to the poor will be getting us better roads!

Well I feel relieved now. At least I know that as I’m driving into church, I can be safe in the knowledge that the road I’m on is better because poor people are going hungry for it.

Thanks Joe, it’s a weight of my mind. All those (non existent) pot holes on the Eastern Freeway were getting very out of hand, I’m so glad they’re all going to go and only at the cost of a few, non voting, (non eating now thanks to you and Tony) people in some land I can’t pronounce or spell. It’s all good because they don’t matter anyway.

So here’s an idea! If we’re not going to send them as much money in aid why not let those poor people come and live here? We’ve got all we need (and great roads) – as we know we have “boundless pains to share…”

Oh no, I forgot, we’re not going to let asylum seekers in either.

 

So as the rich get richer, and drive on better roads, and have their tax bills cut  – the poor get poorer and get even less than they had before.

So again the burden falls on us – the ordinary people. I don’t have $4.5 billion hidden away so I can’t help with the foreign aid budget, I will be vocal in trying to get more funds for the world’s poor but for now I can only do what I can, where I can, in the area around me. I do have compassion, I do have the gift of hospitality and I do have the ability  to see the need where I am. I do have a few dollars in my bank account that (although I want) I don’t REALLY need.

I can help.

I should help.

I will help!

In response to the wickedness in high places I vow to do what good I can in low places – the places around me, with the people I see and the needs I encounter.

 

Join me make the same pledge and let’s try and improve the world one person at a time-  share this post, spread the word and, for at least the foreseeable future, that word is COMPASSION.


  • 0

YAY! We’re getting better roads…..

 

In response to wickedness in high places, do good in low places.

So we have a new Prime Minister and if you voted for him or not, he’s in.

Horrifically, however (if you voted for him or not) he intends to slash the foreign aid budget by over $4.5 billion. So for the fact that Kevin and his mates spent a bit much Tony and his mates are going to punish the poorest people in the world.

As it is we only spend 37 cents of every $100 on helping the world’s poor and when we cut that its going to be mainly from the Asia Pacific Region (of which Australia is a part) and where 70% of the world’s poorest people live.

But we can rest assured – Joe Hockey has told us that the money we don’t give to the poor will be getting us better roads!

Well I feel relieved now. At least I know that as I’m driving into church, I can be safe in the knowledge that the road I’m on is better because poor people are going hungry for it.

Thanks Joe, it’s a weight of my mind. All those (non existent) pot holes on the Eastern Freeway were getting very out of hand, I’m so glad they’re all going to go and only at the cost of a few, non voting, (non eating now thanks to you and Tony) people in some land I can’t pronounce or spell. It’s all good because they don’t matter anyway.

So here’s an idea! If we’re not going to send them as much money in aid why not let those poor people come and live here? We’ve got all we need (and great roads) – as we know we have “boundless pains to share…”

Oh no, I forgot, we’re not going to let asylum seekers in either.

 

So as the rich get richer, and drive on better roads, and have their tax bills cut  – the poor get poorer and get even less than they had before.

So again the burden falls on us – the ordinary people. I don’t have $4.5 billion hidden away so I can’t help with the foreign aid budget, I will be vocal in trying to get more funds for the world’s poor but for now I can only do what I can, where I can, in the area around me. I do have compassion, I do have the gift of hospitality and I do have the ability  to see the need where I am. I do have a few dollars in my bank account that (although I want) I don’t REALLY need.

I can help.

I should help.

I will help!

In response to the wickedness in high places I vow to do what good I can in low places – the places around me, with the people I see and the needs I encounter.

 

Join me make the same pledge and let’s try and improve the world one person at a time-  share this post, spread the word and, for at least the foreseeable future, that word is COMPASSION.


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Walking round the block?

On the 5th of August a few of the church members, under the guidance of Peter Chapman (great leader, brilliant guy) did a Discernment Walk around the city.

 

What’s a discernment Walk? You shout into the ether. Be patient and I will explain.

 

Starting in the church building Peter (great leader, brilliant guy) led us through a Bible study on seeing and hearing our surroundings. Peter (see above for description) has 17 years of ministry experience on the streets of Melbourne and explained to us that we were going out into the city on a ‘pilgrimage’ with God’s question to Jeremiah burning in our ears, “What do you see?” There were no rules, nowhere we should or shouldn’t do – just go out and be God’s people in the city and try and answer that question – “What do you see?”

 

So we had a prayer and divested ourselves of the accoutrements of modern society. We left behind wallets, keys, phones etc on the communion table and left the church. That act in itself was very strange. It felt very strange to go out with nothing.

 

This is the account of my little pilgrimage – the others have very different stories, but this is mine.

 

Let me start by being honest, I really didn’t want to do this walk. It was cold, I had loads of work to do on my computer, I was tired and really didn’t feel like spending two hours wandering the streets. However, I had decided to do it and, in my usual way, give it 100%. During Peter’s talk I had sort of planned my route. I had decided not to go out of the general range of the church, only walk the street we are on and the lanes around. I was going to head up the street to the gardens and wander around, take notice of what was around us.

 

So off I went. For those of you who know Melbourne I was walking up LaTrobe Street towards Flagstaff gardens. As I started I was aware of everything, the traffic, the people, the shops, so busy during the week, all closed and dark. The first thing I noticed was that it was much quieter than during the work week. Fewer people, not as many cars, less noise. Instead of walking straight to the gardens I decided to turn right in Wills Street. Some of the church members used to live here so I know the road but it was not the usual way I would walk.

 

Down here there was a shoe in the middle of the street and a broken shopping trolley. Was it signs of a good time last night? Was it a fight? Was it someone being thrown out of their accommodation? Was it a couple in a rush to get home? Or was it just a shoe and a broken shopping trolley. I did notice that the laces on the shoe were still tied. Strange, I thought.

Image

 

I walked past apartment buildings (so many people living so close to the church, what are we doing for them?) into A’beckett Street.

 

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria meets here (I had no idea) and there is an orchestral rehearsal hall too! Never knew they were here, I mused.

 

Up on the corner is the Radisson Hotel and across William’s Street is Flagstaff gardens. I wandered this way. Crossing the road I saw a guy parking his car and unloading some strange gear, a bike and a large bag with, what looked liked, polo sticks – curious, I pondered.

 

By the time I got across the busy road the man was walking ahead of me and so I thought I would follow him and see what he was doing, wondering what I would see. It wasn’t long before he met his mates and it was plain that they were off to play polo on bikes, on a netball court, on Sunday. Good luck, I silently wished them.

 

Flagstaff gardens was quiet, only a few people wandering here and there. Families, couples, kids kicking balls. One person grabbed my attention. “What do I see?” I asked myself. A young woman sitting, alone, on a park bench gazing out into space. She looked sad and was giving off that ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody’ feeling. I tried to think what would have put her in such a mood to sit in a chilly park, alone. Maybe a relationship gone bad, maybe someone she loved was very sick, had she lost her job? I don’t know but I whispered a little prayer for her as I passed.

 

Not much further down, among the laughter and happy sounds, I saw another sad sight. A lighter and a foil bag – glue or solvent sniffers had been here. Addicts on our doorway. We do nothing for them, I remembered.

Image

 

As I meandered slowly through the park I listened to the voices I could hear. Different accents, different languages. The clipped sound of a South African, the way the German accent destroys the ‘w’ sound, the sing-song cadence of Chinese, the short sounds of Japanese. In about an hour and a half I heard 8 different languages and many more accents – it was fascinating. French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, I’m pretty sure it was Bengali, Arabic and Welsh (yes someone spoke to me in Welsh, I was wearing a Welsh rugby top). I heard English being spoken in accents as diverse as Indian, South African, eastern European (Polish I think but I’m not sure) and Irish. Within a block of the Church the world was there; what can we offer them?

 

It wasn’t only people I saw, in the middle of the afternoon, in cold sunlight I saw possums. Just sitting in a tree being fed by a lady was a greedy possum and in a little hole there was another one peeking out. In all this urban sprawl nature finds a way. God does work mysteriously, I thought.

Image

 

I walked some more. I went past St. James’ Old Cathedral, I wanted to go in but it was all shut up, I passed some ‘art’ called “City living”.

Image I don’t live like that but then I’m not a tortured, starving artist am I? Back through the park (the woman was still on the bench and the bike polo guys hadn’t finished setting up their court yet) I headed back down A’Beckett street and walked headlong into the strangest encounter of my day, maybe even my year.

 

Walking past the Radisson there was a smartly dressed young woman standing there. She smiled at me so I smiled back and then she spoke and nearly floored me. “Are you looking for me?” “No,” I replied, “I wasn’t looking for anyone.” “Shame,” she said, “I was looking for you, do you want some?”

 

I actually said “Some what?” Yes, I am that naive, I’m a little country boy walking in the big city. And then it dawned on me, I was being solicited, by a call girl, a woman of the night, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Flustered I tried to speak normally. “Oh, no thanks, I’m just heading back to church.” She laughed, “Church, that’s a new one on me.”

 

So I explained what I was doing and who I was. There was no one around so I wasn’t stopping business for her. In our little chat I discovered she called herself Alison, she was a medical student from Sydney paying her way through University, her aim was to be a doctor. I was a little stunned at why she was in this particular line of work but as she said she has no overheads, the work is easy, sometimes pleasurable and pays very well. I had to ask, $400 for any part of an hour. “Beats working in a bar,” she explained. She was obviously bright, very pretty and totally aware of what she was doing. She wasn’t feeding a habit of any sort, just feeding herself. We said goodbye and I walked away feeling disgusted for the state of the country when our future doctors get themselves through college by prostitution. Unbelievably sad, I thought.

 

My thoughts were all over the place, I was walking, not looking, not seeing. I got to Queen’s Street and desperately wanted a drink and a sit down to gather my scattered wits. I noticed a new cafe and whiffed the enticing smell of roast coffee beans and then I remembered I had no money, Peter had asked us to leave our wallets at church. So I walked more, back on to LaTrobe Street and down towards Elizabeth Street. On the corner is the old Argus Building. It has some steps outside so I decided to people watch from there.

 

I discovered a lot of things. Coffee is big business in Melbourne. I would say that out of every ten people that passed (and it is a busy corner) two people had a take away coffee cup in their hands. But that was nothing compared to the 60% (six in ten) of people under about 40 that had either an iPhone or those ubiquitous white ear buds. I see why Apple is a multi billion dollar company. About 60% of young(ish) people had an Apple product. If that trend is continued throughout the Western world, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be, the majority of the young population has an idevice. They are able to communicate with the world from wherever they are – we need to make better use of the Internet, I decided.

 

Watching the world go past is great. I was talked to by people, I was surrounded, hugged and high fived by a load of children. True one was my Godson but I still felt really special. I had a conversation with another discerner who happened to amble past, I was smiled at, frowned upon, asked if I was ok but largely ignored. It was very interesting. One thing that caught my attention, well two things, were two people. Scruffy, unclean this couple walked past laughing and smiling. They looked like they had nothing between them but they seemed happy. As they walked past I caught a snatch of the conversation, “…..this is home, the way in is round here.” Like that machine that has just landed on Mars, my feeling was Curiosity. I decided to follow them. Why? Well because I wanted to know where home was. I was sitting outside a derelict building. There are no houses anywhere near where I was. The young man seemed sure though, “…this is home.”

 

They were about 20 metres ahead of me when they turned into the lane that runs between the Argus building and the Dept. of Veteran Affairs building. Casually I followed, years of training kicking in, eyes everywhere, aware of everything. And they weren’t there. Vanished they had (as Yoda would say). Looking around there was no where they could be, no hiding place, no doorways or other lanes. Maybe they were aliens who had teleported to their ship, but then I remembered I was in Melbourne and not L.A. so that couldn’t be the reason. There was only one place they could have gone, through a small, mesh covered window but it was covered with wire. To paraphrase the great (and totally fictional) Sherlock Holmes, when you eliminate every other possibility what is left must be the answer. On closer inspection, the mesh on the window could be lifted and a person could squeeze through into the abandoned Argus Building. So on our block we have a community of squatters. What do they need? I wondered as I walked back to the main street.

Image

Slowly I made my way back to the church. I was not the first back and as the stragglers made their way back I made hot tea. I don’t usually drink tea but after my afternoon of discernment in the cold of Melbourne I needed it. Over tea Peter led a de-brief when we all shared our experiences.

This blog has helped me to clarify the afternoon in my mind. What did I learn? Lots!

 

Our church is too insular – I didn’t walk more than 10 minutes from the doors and I found whole worlds I didn’t know were there. We have families, lonely souls, addicts, working girls, squatters and people from around the world all on our doorstep and we offer them about as little as is possible – they don’t feel the need of our worship services but they do need the love of Christ we have. How we give it to them is a whole different issue – at least we are aware that they are there now!

 

As a local church we need a global presence – if what I saw is anywhere near correct about 60% of the young people around us get their information, not from looking around them but, by surfing the net. Being relevant locally means being accessible globally, at least that’s what I think.

 

We are not useless – the Church has a huge place in society. As the Church, though, we must fill that place and not expect people to fill our place. The people will not come to Christ until Christ goes to them – and that is OUR role. By whatever means possible and necessary we must take Christ to them – that is the biggest lesson I have learnt from the discernment walk.

 

For someone who didn’t want to do it I certainly got a lot out of it. Thanks Peter. I was re-reminded again of one of my life tenants – Everyone counts or no one counts! They all count in God’s eyes, they should in ours.

 

Now to put those lessons into action!

Category : Uncategorized


  • 0

Walking round the block?

On the 5th of August a few of the church members, under the guidance of Peter Chapman (great leader, brilliant guy) did a Discernment Walk around the city.

 

What’s a discernment Walk? You shout into the ether. Be patient and I will explain.

 

Starting in the church building Peter (great leader, brilliant guy) led us through a Bible study on seeing and hearing our surroundings. Peter (see above for description) has 17 years of ministry experience on the streets of Melbourne and explained to us that we were going out into the city on a ‘pilgrimage’ with God’s question to Jeremiah burning in our ears, “What do you see?” There were no rules, nowhere we should or shouldn’t do – just go out and be God’s people in the city and try and answer that question – “What do you see?”

 

So we had a prayer and divested ourselves of the accoutrements of modern society. We left behind wallets, keys, phones etc on the communion table and left the church. That act in itself was very strange. It felt very strange to go out with nothing.

 

This is the account of my little pilgrimage – the others have very different stories, but this is mine.

 

Let me start by being honest, I really didn’t want to do this walk. It was cold, I had loads of work to do on my computer, I was tired and really didn’t feel like spending two hours wandering the streets. However, I had decided to do it and, in my usual way, give it 100%. During Peter’s talk I had sort of planned my route. I had decided not to go out of the general range of the church, only walk the street we are on and the lanes around. I was going to head up the street to the gardens and wander around, take notice of what was around us.

 

So off I went. For those of you who know Melbourne I was walking up LaTrobe Street towards Flagstaff gardens. As I started I was aware of everything, the traffic, the people, the shops, so busy during the week, all closed and dark. The first thing I noticed was that it was much quieter than during the work week. Fewer people, not as many cars, less noise. Instead of walking straight to the gardens I decided to turn right in Wills Street. Some of the church members used to live here so I know the road but it was not the usual way I would walk.

 

Down here there was a shoe in the middle of the street and a broken shopping trolley. Was it signs of a good time last night? Was it a fight? Was it someone being thrown out of their accommodation? Was it a couple in a rush to get home? Or was it just a shoe and a broken shopping trolley. I did notice that the laces on the shoe were still tied. Strange, I thought.

 

I walked past apartment buildings (so many people living so close to the church, what are we doing for them?) into A’beckett Street.

 

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria meets here (I had no idea) and there is an orchestral rehearsal hall too! Never knew they were here, I mused.

 

Up on the corner is the Radisson Hotel and across William’s Street is Flagstaff gardens. I wandered this way. Crossing the road I saw a guy parking his car and unloading some strange gear, a bike and a large bag with, what looked liked, polo sticks – curious, I pondered.

 

By the time I got across the busy road the man was walking ahead of me and so I thought I would follow him and see what he was doing, wondering what I would see. It wasn’t long before he met his mates and it was plain that they were off to play polo on bikes, on a netball court, on Sunday. Good luck, I silently wished them.

 

Flagstaff gardens was quiet, only a few people wandering here and there. Families, couples, kids kicking balls. One person grabbed my attention. “What do I see?” I asked myself. A young woman sitting, alone, on a park bench gazing out into space. She looked sad and was giving off that ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody’ feeling. I tried to think what would have put her in such a mood to sit in a chilly park, alone. Maybe a relationship gone bad, maybe someone she loved was very sick, had she lost her job? I don’t know but I whispered a little prayer for her as I passed.

 

Not much further down, among the laughter and happy sounds, I saw another sad sight. A lighter and a foil bag – glue or solvent sniffers had been here. Addicts on our doorway. We do nothing for them, I remembered.

 

As I meandered slowly through the park I listened to the voices I could hear. Different accents, different languages. The clipped sound of a South African, the way the German accent destroys the ‘w’ sound, the sing-song cadence of Chinese, the short sounds of Japanese. In about an hour and a half I heard 8 different languages and many more accents – it was fascinating. French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, I’m pretty sure it was Bengali, Arabic and Welsh (yes someone spoke to me in Welsh, I was wearing a Welsh rugby top). I heard English being spoken in accents as diverse as Indian, South African, eastern European (Polish I think but I’m not sure) and Irish. Within a block of the Church the world was there; what can we offer them?

 

It wasn’t only people I saw, in the middle of the afternoon, in cold sunlight I saw possums. Just sitting in a tree being fed by a lady was a greedy possum and in a little hole there was another one peeking out. In all this urban sprawl nature finds a way. God does work mysteriously, I thought.

 

I walked some more. I went past St. James’ Old Cathedral, I wanted to go in but it was all shut up, I passed some ‘art’ called “City living”.

I don’t live like that but then I’m not a tortured, starving artist am I? Back through the park (the woman was still on the bench and the bike polo guys hadn’t finished setting up their court yet) I headed back down A’Beckett street and walked headlong into the strangest encounter of my day, maybe even my year.

 

Walking past the Radisson there was a smartly dressed young woman standing there. She smiled at me so I smiled back and then she spoke and nearly floored me. “Are you looking for me?” “No,” I replied, “I wasn’t looking for anyone.” “Shame,” she said, “I was looking for you, do you want some?”

 

I actually said “Some what?” Yes, I am that naive, I’m a little country boy walking in the big city. And then it dawned on me, I was being solicited, by a call girl, a woman of the night, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Flustered I tried to speak normally. “Oh, no thanks, I’m just heading back to church.” She laughed, “Church, that’s a new one on me.”

 

So I explained what I was doing and who I was. There was no one around so I wasn’t stopping business for her. In our little chat I discovered she called herself Alison, she was a medical student from Sydney paying her way through University, her aim was to be a doctor. I was a little stunned at why she was in this particular line of work but as she said she has no overheads, the work is easy, sometimes pleasurable and pays very well. I had to ask, $400 for any part of an hour. “Beats working in a bar,” she explained. She was obviously bright, very pretty and totally aware of what she was doing. She wasn’t feeding a habit of any sort, just feeding herself. We said goodbye and I walked away feeling disgusted for the state of the country when our future doctors get themselves through college by prostitution. Unbelievably sad, I thought.

 

My thoughts were all over the place, I was walking, not looking, not seeing. I got to Queen’s Street and desperately wanted a drink and a sit down to gather my scattered wits. I noticed a new cafe and whiffed the enticing smell of roast coffee beans and then I remembered I had no money, Peter had asked us to leave our wallets at church. So I walked more, back on to LaTrobe Street and down towards Elizabeth Street. On the corner is the old Argus Building. It has some steps outside so I decided to people watch from there.

 

I discovered a lot of things. Coffee is big business in Melbourne. I would say that out of every ten people that passed (and it is a busy corner) two people had a take away coffee cup in their hands. But that was nothing compared to the 60% (six in ten) of people under about 40 that had either an iPhone or those ubiquitous white ear buds. I see why Apple is a multi billion dollar company. About 60% of young(ish) people had an Apple product. If that trend is continued throughout the Western world, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be, the majority of the young population has an idevice. They are able to communicate with the world from wherever they are – we need to make better use of the Internet, I decided.

 

Watching the world go past is great. I was talked to by people, I was surrounded, hugged and high fived by a load of children. True one was my Godson but I still felt really special. I had a conversation with another discerner who happened to amble past, I was smiled at, frowned upon, asked if I was ok but largely ignored. It was very interesting. One thing that caught my attention, well two things, were two people. Scruffy, unclean this couple walked past laughing and smiling. They looked like they had nothing between them but they seemed happy. As they walked past I caught a snatch of the conversation, “…..this is home, the way in is round here.” Like that machine that has just landed on Mars, my feeling was Curiosity. I decided to follow them. Why? Well because I wanted to know where home was. I was sitting outside a derelict building. There are no houses anywhere near where I was. The young man seemed sure though, “…this is home.”

 

They were about 20 metres ahead of me when they turned into the lane that runs between the Argus building and the Dept. of Veteran Affairs building. Casually I followed, years of training kicking in, eyes everywhere, aware of everything. And they weren’t there. Vanished they had (as Yoda would say). Looking around there was no where they could be, no hiding place, no doorways or other lanes. Maybe they were aliens who had teleported to their ship, but then I remembered I was in Melbourne and not L.A. so that couldn’t be the reason. There was only one place they could have gone, through a small, mesh covered window but it was covered with wire. To paraphrase the great (and totally fictional) Sherlock Holmes, when you eliminate every other possibility what is left must be the answer. On closer inspection, the mesh on the window could be lifted and a person could squeeze through into the abandoned Argus Building. So on our block we have a community of squatters. What do they need? I wondered as I walked back to the main street.

 

Slowly I made my way back to the church. I was not the first back and as the stragglers made their way back I made hot tea. I don’t usually drink tea but after my afternoon of discernment in the cold of Melbourne I needed it. Over tea Peter led a de-brief when we all shared our experiences.

This blog has helped me to clarify the afternoon in my mind. What did I learn? Lots!

 

Our church is too insular – I didn’t walk more than 10 minutes from the doors and I found whole worlds I didn’t know were there. We have families, lonely souls, addicts, working girls, squatters and people from around the world all on our doorstep and we offer them about as little as is possible – they don’t feel the need of our worship services but they do need the love of Christ we have. How we give it to them is a whole different issue – at least we are aware that they are there now!

 

As a local church we need a global presence – if what I saw is anywhere near correct about 60% of the young people around us get their information, not from looking around them but, by surfing the net. Being relevant locally means being accessible globally, at least that’s what I think.

 

We are not useless – the Church has a huge place in society. As the Church, though, we must fill that place and not expect people to fill our place. The people will not come to Christ until Christ goes to them – and that is OUR role. By whatever means possible and necessary we must take Christ to them – that is the biggest lesson I have learnt from the discernment walk.

 

For someone who didn’t want to do it I certainly got a lot out of it. Thanks Peter. I was re-reminded again of one of my life tenants – Everyone counts or no one counts! They all count in God’s eyes, they should in ours.

 

Now to put those lessons into action!

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