Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Celebrating the World Council of Churches’ 59th birthday

This Thursday, the World Council of Churches will turn 59. Happy Birthday to it!

To coincide with this celebration, today the Macedon Anglicans and the Mount Macedon and Riddells Creek Uniting Church people worshipped together at the Church of the Resurrection in Macedon. Rev’d Brad Billings, the local Anglican priest, presided at the Eucharist, and I preached.

It was lovely to gather together, and after the pain of division at Bossey it was absolutely wonderful that we could share Eucharist together. (I’ve written before about how much it hurts to live with people for five months, to come to love them, and to be unable to gather round the table together.)

What everyone seems to be insisting on calling “the return match” will take place on the first Sunday in November, when I will preside at Eucharist and Brad will preach.

Today made me feel very happy about ecumenism. At Bossey, Konrad Raiser talked about the next stage of the ecumenical journey being less institutional and more local, and I think we’ve started that here.

And in case you’re interested (but don’t feel obligated) I’ve attached my sermon.

Continue reading

August 19, 2007 Posted by | Ministry | 5 Comments

People in Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story of Life In & Out of Hillsong

The week that I read People in Glass Houses Romsey and Lancefield almost didn’t get a sermon. The book was so absorbing that I found myself reading it during times when I should have been exegeting Isaiah. It is absolutely fascinating.

The author blurb on the back cover says only “Tanya Levin is no longer welcome at Hillsong. She lives in Sydney.” I can definitely understand the first. This is no objective history of the Hillsong pheneomenon. This is a personal, passionate and polemical description of Levin’s life growing up as a Pentecostal, and of the long drawn-out process of her loss of faith, culminating in a chapter halfway through the book titled “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last”.

In that chapter Levin describes Brian and Bobbie Houston’s reaction to the publishing on a website of accusations that Brian’s father, Frank (founder of the Christian Life Centre Sydney, which became the Hills Christian Life Centre and then Hillsong) had left New Zealand for Australia not because he’d had a vision but to avoid disciplinary action. “The rumours were that Frank Houston had been involved in paedophilia.” writes Levin. (p. 115)

This is how Levin describes what happened on one Sunday in November 2002.

Brian began swiftly. ‘About two years ago, George Agahajanian recieved a phone call from someone making some allegations about my father. I did the toughest thing of my life and went around to my father and confronted him. He broke down and confessed that the allegations were true.

‘I immediately stepped aside and let the investigators from the National Executive do their job. My father was found guilty of “serious moral failure” and his credentials were taken away from him.’ (At this point I was waiting for the punchline, and had a near-irresistable urge to yell out like the boys used to do in the old days, ‘What did he DO, Brian?) ‘This has devastated my family. We haven’t told our daughter yet, but the boys know and they’re doing okay. My son came into my room the other night, and he said, “Dad, I still love Jesus.”

‘You know, my dad loved God. And while he was deeply repentant for the mistakes he had made, it didn’t change his love for God.’

Once again, Brian took Bobbie’s hand and asked the church to pray for them and for their family, given the ordeal they had just been through.

That was it. The entire congregation responded by giving Brian and Bobbie Houston a standing ovation.

At exactly the same time as I was furious, I was as peaceful as daybreak. I had never felt so close to God. Hillsong was boasting a 12,000-strong congregation at the time. All I could hear in my head was ‘12,000 people are wrong and I’m right’. (pp. 116-7)

This is an angry book – it’s also a very, very funny book. Some of the humour comes from the horror of the Hillsong version of Christianity. Levin describes the Shine course for girls aged between twelve and sixteen in which, among other things, “Through skincare, makeup, haircare and nailcare, girls discover their value in their God created uniqueness.” As Levin writes: “If only I had known then when I was growing up what I know now. The answer’s been nailcare all this time.” (p. 197). There’s the fact that Brian Houston really has written a book called You Need More Money in which he says, “It’s true! – money is inevitably the bottom line of everything.” (quoted in Levin, p. 210)

(Interestingly, while writing this I checked out Brian and Bobbie’s homepage. Their verse for the day was Isaiah 32:8 “But a generous man devised generous things and by generosity he shall stand.” The NRSV translation is “But those who are noble plan noble things, and by noble things they stand.” The NIV is the same, without the inclusive language. The Message also uses ‘noble’. The King James is even more interesting: “But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.” I think I’m going to read the King James from now on. After web-surfing, the only translation I could find that uses ‘generosity’ is the New Living Translation. But in a church as focussed on money as Hillsong, I guess this translation makes the most sense.)

Then there is Levin’s wonderful glossary of Pentecostal terms. For example and related to the above:

Blessed (v): Given money to: ‘They’ve blessed our church’

Blessing (n): Source of money: ‘They’ve been a real blessing to us’

Blessed to be a blessing: Getting money to give it away

Generous: Giving lots of money to the church

I also loved: Suffering for Jesus: Missing your connecting flight. (p. 150)

But Levin also gives Hillsong credit for giving her the courage to write this book at all:

I have to sincerely thank Hillsong and the crew backstage for propelling me into becoming the person I am. For giving me a confidence that in a psychiatrist’s office would have been called delusional. For telling me that the only person I have to keep happy is my creator. That I should rejoice when persecuted. Expect to be called crazy. Delight in being driven out of town. As long as it is in the name of Truth. That God has no favourites. That the strangest people are used in the strangest ways. And that God is powerful enough to save me from the fire, but that even if he does not, I still will not serve your gids or worship the image of gold you have set up. Without these things being drummed into my head, week after week after year after year, I would never have had the guts to write all this down. Even the bible agreed with me. (p. 6)

I think what I got out of this book was not a sense of superiority over Hillsong, although I have to confess that that was a temptation, but a sense of how vital it is for Christians to practice what we preach, to avoid hypocrisy. The Uniting Church has different faults, but we have faults, and if we don’t want people to leave us in disgust as hypocrites we need to know what we believe and live it out.

So, all in all, I can recommend this book as funny, moving, angry and thought-provoking.

August 17, 2007 Posted by | Ministry, Slightly Higher Culture | 6 Comments

When depressed about politics …


You Are 69% Grown Up, 31% Kid


Congratulations, you are definitely quite emotionally mature.
Although you have your moments of moodiness, you’re usually stable and level headed.

How Emotionally Mature Are You?


What Your Favorite Color Red Says About You:


Ambitious — Energetic — Passionate
Spontaneous — Attractive — Inspiring
Seductive — Powerful — Addicting

What Does Your Favorite Color Say About You?


You Are Cheesecake


Rich, sweet, and simply perfect.
You’re not boring – you’re just the best!

What Dessert Are You Most Like?


You Are 70% Psychic


You are pretty psychic.
While you aren’t Miss Cleo, you’ve got a little ESP going on.
And although you’re sometimes off on your predictions…
You’re more often right than wrong
So go with your instincts – you know more than you think

Are You Psychic?


You’re Part Diva


You know that a girl’s gotta work it to get her way in the world.
And while you aren’t about to throw a tantrum at every turn…
You do amp up the drama when you know you need it.
You mix charm, honesty, and kindness to get ahead.

Are You a Diva?


Your Superhero Profile


Your Superhero Name is The Azure Demon
Your Superpower is Invisibility
Your Weakness is Cowboys
Your Weapon is Your Power Dagger
Your Mode of Transportation is Submarine

What’s your Superhero Name?


You Are Scooter


Brainy and knowledgable, you are the perfect sidekick.
You’re always willing to lend a helping hand.
In any big event or party, you’re the one who keeps things going.
“15 seconds to showtime!”

The Muppet Personality Test


You Are 0% Capitalist, 100% Socialist


You see a lot of injustice in the world, and you’d like to see it fixed.
As far as you’re concerned, all the wrong people have the power.
You’re strongly in favor of the redistribution of wealth – and more protection for the average person.

Are You a Socialist or Capitalist?

August 10, 2007 Posted by | Life, etc., Pop Culture | 7 Comments

In the Media

Well, I’ve made it into a local paper again. But this time, rather than being on the front page, I’m on page 22 (of 24) which I feel is more my level.

Article in the Gisborne Gazette

Did anyone sign up for the Australian Christian Lobby’s evening with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader? I’m hoping that the media is misrepresenting what was said, because from the snippets I’ve heard and read “Christian values” seem to have been completely confused with “conservative family values,” even by Rudd the self-confessed admirer of Bonhoeffer. How anyone could sit through the lectionary readings from Luke and the prophets that we’ve been having over the past few weeks and even imagine that wealth (as opposed to sufficiency) is a good thing is beyond me. And yet Howard seems again to have droned on about the need for a strong economy as a Christian value!

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Ministry | 2 Comments