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Guernsey Gazette 2011

Yummy! Just what you've been waiting for...

Hello again! Time to get that clipboard out and begin checking those boxes: Are those chestnuts roasting? Is that fire open? Tree-tops glistening? Children listening? (Yeah, like!) Days: Merry? Bright? Love-light gleaming? (Er… please explain) Snow? Mistletoe? Presents on the tree? (That’s what the lyrics actually say – On the tree. Ours are always under by the way, never tried the ‘on the tree’ idea, Health & Safety Executive might have a few words to say. Or, it’s just occurred to me that maybe they are very little titchy wee presents perhaps. Now there’s an idea.) OK let’s continue with that box ticking: Heart light? Troubles out of sight? Faithful friends dear and near? Yule-tide gay? (Ooer… let’s leave it there shall we!)

Here we go again then, Christmas eh? Seems like the last one has only just finished! Possibly this is because some shops over here started marketing Christmas ‘crap‘ first week in September (see photo),

Chocolate Santas for sale in September! And what happened to Halloween? No, don't ask!

which was only a couple of months after they had finally got exhausted the January sales of the stuff they didn’t manage to sell last year. This may mean that if global warming conspiracy theorists have their way then we may be entering into a quasi-anti-Narnia era where it’s always Christmas but never winter. Not sure which is worse. Is that what it’s like in Australia and New Zealand anyway? Answers on a post-card… no forget I wrote that… comments below please.

Actually we quite like the changing seasons generally and although being placed in the outflow of the North Atlantic Drift and thus warmed by the waters of the Gulf Stream the Channel Islands maintain a fairly temperate, mild maritime climate – frost is rare, few hibernating animals, plants which are generally annuals in Northern Europe become perennials, palm trees proliferate, high annual sunshine hours – a tax-haven and a veritable subtropical paradise I hear you think…

Summer time at Cobo: 2 min walk from our house

but don’t forget that the word Atlantic is hidden away in North Atlantic Drift!

Cobo Coast road in the winter

So despite the warm ground temperature and blooming flora and fauna nevertheless during the winter months we do get buffeted by incredible thumping, agitating, penetrating, debilitating, tempestuous, progress-defeating winds from the West and Sou-West, like the storm which is upon us now as I write, and which has succeeded in cancelling out ferry sailings to and from the UK for the past three days! Now on a day like today when you get to the top of the hill behind our house and stand (if you can!) and watch that same majestic wind pummeling the sea into shape, seeing great walls of it flung 30ft high and over the coastal defenses, chucking huge 14lb pebbles, along with flotsam and jetsam over the road and onto the roofs and into the gardens of homes on the western seaboard, feeling that same cyclonic blast sweep up the rain to send it horizontally into your face, actually then you can appreciate being alive, and the beauty of the changing the seasons.

Cobo Bay: West coast in the Spring

I love the Spring, the Autumn and the Summer, don’t misunderstand me – from that same vantage point hidden in the little pine copse at the summit of Ruette de la Tour, on a Summer’s day you can see children playing in the sand at Grandes Rocques, fishing boats bobbing for their crab-pots out by Les Grunes, Nor-West of Cobo, picnickers at Port Soif, even hear the smack of leather on willow from the cricketers on La Mare de Carteret – that’s fine and majestic also. But on a day like today you hear nothing but the scream of the wind and your own heartbeat. How wonderful to be alive. Beautiful in every season.

West coast late Autumn

So it was nevertheless a little odd for Guernsey to be gifted with not one but two dollops of snow last winter, just after the time I was writing the GG10. My father said that in his 98 years he had never seen snow before Christmas in the islands. Then in January this year we had some more. Which was entertaining enough in the UK but here in the Channel Islands we just have no real plan for snow; not even 2.5 inches of it (which was about all it amounted to at worst!) So the kids enjoyed snow days, transport came to a standstill on and off the island, everyone stayed indoors and generally one came to the conclusion that just maybe we weren’t living in the 21st Century after all.

2011 was the year we celebrated 25 years of marriage – a quarter-century of coupleness – and fittingly, thanks to the generosity of friends we were able to celebrate this with an out-of-this-world-but-very-much-still-in-it holiday at a resort aptly named Couples in Jamaica. For two weeks. Two weeks?! Just the two of you? What on earth did you do for two weeks? I again hear you think. Well the answer to that is for us to know and for you to guess. Suffice to say we feel suitably qualified to host fulfilled married life seminars for a few more years to come.

We got married in August 1986, but the holiday offer was for February, so that is when we went, which included Valentines Day thrown in, so… Ah! all sweet and nice and romantic, slushy-wushy, nostalgia-isn’t-what-it-used-to-be, and the like. Yes, it was beautiful and for us very timely as the latter months of 2010, over the Christmas period and into January 2011 we had begun to struggle to look after Dad at home. On Christmas Day last year he was feeling pretty weak, but decided to sit up in his chair for lunch, and we gathered around him and his beloved Hammond as a family in the morning to sing a few carols and songs (happily andtearfully!) with Dad lifting up his hands at certain points and crying out “Take me Jesus!” in Guernsey French! Yep! Just a little on the emotional side.

Papa Le Tocq with his family, Christmas Day 2010

We had the kindly help of a fantastic bunch of Care Attendants and Nurses who would drop by three times a day towards the end (not forgetting Betty who had been Mum and Dad’s Home Help for over 14 years!), but even then when you’re caring for someone near and dear to you, knowing he is finding it difficult to live on another day, emotionally stretched endeavoring to keep him stimulated, comfortable, interested in eating even, being on call via a bell/life-line system, waking sometimes three times in the night for toilet lifts, or to pick him up off the floor because he ‘didn’t want to disturb us again’ and had fallen down trying to do it himself, clearing up after accidents, hosting a regular stream of visitors to see Dad (some with strong if genuinely concerned ‘opinions’ as to how we should be caring for him), as well as looking after a teenage family, doing a fair day’s work both in ‘caring professions’ too… it’s not just the physical tiredness that builds up! Dad could appreciate this too, long gone were the times where we could leave him with a family member and although he did not like hospitals, when the opportunity for two weeks respite care came up he encouraged us to take it. With Dad safely in hospital while we were away, this helped us to find space and time to think, pray and consider how we would face the future. We had checked out a few nursing homes and in direct answer to prayer, on our return the one that was top of our list informed us that Dad could move in within a few days. He spent exactly one month there before slipping peacefully away in his sleep one night in April, and like Mum three and half years earlier, we were happy that we had cared for and nursed him at home with us all those years excepting just a few weeks near the end. It was a great celebration at Church on the Rock, too many happy funny memories to recount, but Lucy and I shared from our perspectives and Grace led the singing of one of Papa’s (and his Mum before him) favourite old French hymns “Christ est ma vie” [Christ is my life].

I share this not so much to air my confession to the world, but because I know that many of you dear folk out there are either going through similar times with loved ones, or will face it sooner or later. We faced it early compared to most because of the peculiarities of my adoption and my parents age and longevity. But it amounts to the same thing. Be encouraged, we felt stretched in every way – you will too – but it’s worth it all, we feel alive, satisfied, fulfilled, and we’ve been able to grieve healthily with no regrets.

Also finally we were able to resolve the tombstone problem which had irked us since we buried Mum in 2007. In digging Mum’s grave they had hit rock and so had informed us that there would not be room for another coffin in the same grave, Dad would probably have to buried alongside when the time came. This unexpected problem was compounded by Dad’s realization that the cost of the masonry, already causing him to be aghast, would now be doubled. So he had insisted that we put one stone, in between the two graves, with engraved arrows pointing the relative direction of the respective deceased, e.g. “Millie, here ->… Will, there <-" As you may imagine, this did not exactly meet with our approval, but never mind how much we tried to persuade him otherwise, he insisted he would not have us waste our money on two headstones. As a result no stone was erected in the last four years. However when the time came this year the sextant informed us that there was in fact room for Dad's coffin after all, and so that is where we laid him, with no need for two stones, nor directional arrows, etc. Phew!

Judith got a permanent job this year (she had been working in two part-time casual positions since returning as a qualified nurse – a few hours per week in Community and a few in a Clinic). She now works for the Medical Specialist Group – the private group of consultants and specialists that are contracted to do the work normally undertaken by NHS at Hospitals in the UK. It involves seeing both private and government-funded (through public insurance) patients. It is not a lot more in terms of hours (20 per week) but now these are contracted hours so we have to plan time off a little more carefully in advance. She's really enjoying it though and she's part of a great team of nurses.

Our boat, Bare Necessities, has not been used so much this year, or should I say Judith has not used our boat so much this year! Read GG10 from last year to discover perhaps one reason for this. However despite the wicked winter we had an incredibly mild Spring and Jon and the girls enjoyed a few excursions on the water, taking friends over to neighbouring islands, and in the Easter holidays even a wonderful evening sunset picnic (lovingly prepared by loving daughters) on a beach on the east coast of Herm overlooking St Peter Port – absolutely delightful!

Sunset picnic in Herm, April.

Judith has however overcome some of her conservative inhibitions and ventured into the Apple Mac world through the acquisition of an iPad – which she loves. Although I am still trying to get her to do a tutorial. It really bugs me when she discovers something simple by accident and exclaims “Oo! Look! It can do this!” Still, this is progress.

This has been a year of shedding pounds, not only if you, like us, hold shares in European equities, but for Judith and me, also shedding weight, real body mass. Without going on a diet! Yes. We have just consumed a bit less, and week by week we have ballooned a bit less. We’re thinking of marketing this incredible technique, so here’s a sneak preview of the opening chapter:

“Eat a little less.”

Revolutionary & remarkable eh? Wonder why no-one’s thought of that before. To be fair we have also been going to talk to someone each week about what we’ve been eating and getting ourselves weighed which brings me to a sneak preview of the second chapter. Here it is:

“Talk to someone about this.”

Oh yes, I can see this book really selling in the millions. I wanted to call it “The Dunce’s Diet” but Judith tells me we’re not really on a diet, and she’s right, I don’t feel like I am. Which is good news indeed. Not much exercise has accompanied this weight reduction experience although Judith did go to a couple of Zumba sessions with Lucy. I did not accompany them, but was sufficiently bemused by the fact that my wife crawled back into the house each time, exhausted, panting, red-faced, sweaty (sorry, glowing) complaining of aches and pains, and yet my daughter’s comment was “Mum, you’re not even trying!”

Emily became a voter this year (in Guernsey Politics) and also has begun driving! “Our baby is driving cars! Arrhhh!” But don’t worry, so far she’s only managed to drive one at a time. And only with supervision. [Interesting word that, supervision. It's not as glamorous as it sounds is it?] But returning to our baby Ems, what happened to all those years? She’s now passed her GSCEs and moved on to Guernsey Grammar’s Sixth Form Centre where she’s studying Art, Photography and Media Studies.

Grace had a bit of an up and down year at Uni, partly because she was away for a lot of the time her Papa was dying (although she miraculously made it back on the boat in stormy seas to say ‘goodbye’ a few hours before he passed away), but she has now entered into her final year in London and has great prospects of a job with Sovereign Trust, a young up and coming outfit based in Guernsey where she has had a holiday job for the past two years. She seems to have taken an interest in actuarial science. Hmm… suppose someone has to. In the Summer, as part of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain Grace sang in a BBC Prom at the Albert Hall. Now we try never to boast about our kids here so, let me just say that it was Mahler 2 “Resurrection Symphony” and Gustavo ‘The Dude” Dudamel was conducting the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. You can hear the incredible finale here. It is probably my favourite symphony of all time, but the day was made that much more memorable by the fact that Judith and I could not get seats (all tickets went within a few minutes of the box office opening months before!) and so we had to do like all good promenaders do and queue for seven hours or so outside to pay £5 each for a standing-room-only ticket and hope to get in. They turned over a thousand away. Fortunately we did get in. The last time we did this we were students! We were entertained during the long, hot day of standing/sitting/lying in line by happening to be positioned near a stalwart promenader who also happened to be Mahler’s greatest living fan. You can guess the rest.

Lucy, now 22, we are proud to announce… invested in a classic British Mini this year, which means she has enjoyed all the thrills of classic British motor car ownership including uncomfortable driving positions, being nearly impossible to get in and out of, unpredictable suspension, rust, water seepage, breakdowns, expensive repairs, with enough storage capacity for a couple of sandwiches, along with the knowledge that she is driving a car everyone double-takes, admires and coos at, and is privately thankful that they do not own. Seriously, though, we are proud to announce that Lucy has got engaged to her long-standing and only boyfriend Luke Vidamour (of CourageHaveCourage fame – a Guernsey band that played at Reading/Leeds Festivals this year for those of you in the know! Grace’s boyfriend Ollie is also in the band. We’re in the process of considering Emily’s options.) We are absolutely delighted, over-the-moon, and hey-diddle-diddle about them! What a great year! A wedding is being planned for late next summer.

We renovated the flat in the wing of Feugré Villa that we original established for Dad and Mum to move into in 2004, and now we have a useful little one-bedroom unit (with space for a few little’uns if necessary) for friends to use. You read that correctly. Since the summer we have also had a lodger living with us in the rooms above the flat. Luke, an unfortunate choice of name for a Le Tocq lodger (earning him the nicknames Luke No.2, or Luke-the-lesser) is a great bloke who just happens to be a manager at Waitrose too, which, shall we say, comes in handy from time to time.

We paid the regular annual visit to the White House, Herm, on our actual Wedding Anniversary in August, also a family holiday in France, around St Palais-sur-Mer as usual.

Les belles filles, Talmont-sur-Gironde

This was an historic year as we finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia, having read one book in the series virtually every year we have been on our annual French holiday since Emily was old enough to join in. It was of course the Last Battle this year. Laughs were laughed, tears were shed, and there were the usual requests late in the night for “just another chapter, oh pleeeeease!”

Other countries have also featured significantly in our forays this year, especially Romania, to visit our growing gang or friends in Brasov and Iasi – what incredible saints! Also we enjoyed sorties to Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands for the first time. The Low Countries trip was initiated by our developing friendship with New Wine Europe, and was especially fascinating and encouraging. Brussels, Amsterdam & Eindhoven featured, along with a stop in Den Haag to check out Chris Taylor’s excellent Redeemer International church. All opening up warm new friendships in ministry and mission. We feel very much at one with our brothers and sisters in these nations often facing very similar issues to us. France increasingly features again on the ministry radar as we work with the Newfrontiers churches based there to see more mission, growth, leadership development and church planting in that nation ripe for revival.

One of the factors which has released Jon more outside of the local church this year has been the addition of Paul Chesworth to our staff as executive pastor. Paul and Jon have known each other for over nine years as Paul has been a Methodist minister in Guernsey during that time and worked with Jon in Evangelical Alliance and New Wine environments. Paul and Liz have been an immediate huge asset to the church and we are so grateful that miraculously they have been granted permission to remain here with us.

You may have noticed that there hasn’t been much name-dropping in this GG. I’ve really come to dislike name-droppers, as I was telling the Queen only a couple of weeks ago, I was contacted recently by the media to ask me to comment on why I was the third most followed Guernsey personality on Twitter. Of course that was easy; #1 & #2 aren’t real Guernsey personalities! Jenson Button (#1, with a mere 706, 103 following him – it’ll be over 750k by the time you’ve read this I guess!) is a UK ex-pat who moved here only 12 months ago, and Andy Priaulx (#2, with a meagre 14,432) is just his friend. Priaulx is a French name anyway. I’m only 13,583 behind too. They’re both into motor racing, now where can you do that in Guernsey? So they spend all their time elsewhere. Yes, and there are at least two other Guerns I know who tweet regularly, not counting Judith who is on Twitter but regularly forgets her password so does not. [Don't forget to follow me on Twitter by the way - here!]

So that’s it for this year folks! Drink up that mulled wine now and get back to some proper work. Your country needs you. And even if not, the EU does.

Much love to all of you this Christmas – May the God of all grace grant that you defy the current economic logic of the prophets of doom and let Peace and Prosperity be yours in the New Year!

JJLGE

(We’re still here)

Is Revival Sufficient?

Don't they look, er... young! Do you recognize any faces?

I recently came across an article which awakened old passions. Have you ever had that experience?

It was like a fragrance, or an old melody which has the powerful effect of taking you back not just mentally but emotionally to sensations, affections and desires which you once knew and experienced keenly for the first time.

I have not blogged here at all for a few months, since the new year in fact, during which time my dear old Dad of 98 who has been living with us for the last 7 years was deteriorating slowly, as I have mentioned before. But latterly his condition requiring more and more of our energies as we sought to care for him and make his final weeks as comfortable as possible.

Death is never easy, even for those who’s one remaining hope is to make it through over that threshold which my Mum beat him to three years ago; our poor bodies still demonstrate the degrading effects of sin, even when our souls are healed and our spirits safe in Christ Jesus. Dad graduated to glory last month and we have been remembering, laughing, weeping, rejoicing and generally coming to terms with his absence, grateful for the assurance that he’s so much better off now. So whilst I haven’t felt able to continue with the blog as frequently as I would have liked, I have continued to journal as always (which I find so personally beneficial to my devotional life) and I have also come across some fascinating old memories as we’ve been gradually sorting through Dad’s books, papers and music. It was an old tattered copy of All Hail King Jesus (one of the first Bible Week Songbooks I remember using after being baptized in the Holy Spirit in the early 1980s) along with some notes and cuttings stuffed inside it whilst alerted me to this article.

Entitled Is revival sufficient? it was written by Bryn Jones, one of the founding fathers of the move of God which began in the early 1970s, largely in the UK, and which resulted in what has been variously termed the British New Church (or House Church) Movement, Restorationism, Neo-Pentecostalism, et al. Bryn had a Welsh non-conformist background and could preach up a storm, but he was also a brilliant story teller, a communicator from the heart and had a wide following especially across the north of Britain as well as North America, where he lived for a while. Sadly he died less than a decade ago in his early sixties, a relatively young age. He left a legacy through Covenant Ministries International (CMI), various training colleges, several spin-off networks of churches led by previous team members, recordings and writings, including books and magazines (I think I still have nearly 50% of the total editions of Restoration magazines ever published! It was one of those reads, in my late teens and early 2os, which I picked up from Church each quarter – if I remember correctly – and read from cover to cover before sunset that night! Every article seemed like gold-dust. You can read some fascinating excerpts here)  The article I read was evidently written in Bryn’s latter years. I didn’t ever adhere or appreciate everything Bryn and other CMI leaders stood for, I preferred the same vision but accompanied with a more relational, fatherly apostolic stance of Terry Virgo which is why you find our church in Newfrontiers Today. But in this article Bryn touches upon some of the themes which originally enlivened my hopes and dreams for a united New Testament fashioned church, not yet perfect (for the fullness of the Kingdom will not come till Jesus returns) but set free from the dividing walls of denominationalism, not just seeing masses saved as in revival times of old – which is great and ever needed – but together in any one given locality working to be salt and light, to bring the Kingdom power into every nook and cranny of villages, towns and cities; to see city-wide and island-wide overseers & elderships emerge where the people of God, whether gathered in homes, chapels, schools, cathedrals or concert halls, would know themselves as of one vision “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” [Ephesians 4:12-16]

See what you think! Here’s the article:

“The word revival means different things to different people. In North America it could mean an evangelistic crusade, or then again, it could be a visitation of God in a single church in a city, as in recent times in Brownsville, Pensacola or Toronto, Canada. For many Christians it refers to a very widespread visitation of God on a locality or nation, such as the Great Awakening in the 18th century with Jonathan Edwards or in our more recent history, the Welsh Revival and the Hebridean Awakening, when the whole vicinity was marked by the sense of the presence of God.

Unfortunately, many Christians view ‘revival’ through rose coloured spectacles. They believe it to be a panacea for all that is wrong with the church, and the answer to every crisis in our world. History shows that this is not the case. The purpose of God is hastened and advanced by Spiritual visitation, but the goal of His purpose cannot be achieved simply by revival.

There are other vital factors to consider. My earliest memories as a Christian are those of listening to stirring accounts of the great Welsh Revival of 1904, related by a white-headed, wrinkled-faced, bright-eyed old man. I would sit for hours listening incredulously to stories of pubs being emptied as chapels filled up; how the miners would go down into coal-pits singing the praises of God; homes and families were transformed, and in some towns crime dropped to an almost non-existent level. I seemed to hear singing in the heavens and to see the cloud of God’s presence hovering over the hills, so caught up was I in the fervour of his stories. I began reading avidly about the Great Awakening, and decided one day to make a pilgrimage to the places referred to in the various accounts. It was this journey that brought me to a cold, rude awakening.

As we examine the history of those times, we quickly see that it is impossible to divorce that great spiritual awakening in Wales with what the Spirit of God was doing around the world, for at the turn of the 20th century God was pouring His Spirit out in many countries.

Although Evan Roberts was the most prominent of the many revivalists in the Awakening in Wales (there were many others, such as Dan Roberts, Hank and Seth Joshua, Sydney Evans, Mary Davies, Anne Davies and Priscilla Watkins), such was the power released in this sovereign act of God’s visitation that thousands of people moved into the Kingdom without any special preacher being present at all.

A Growing Hunger

After the first great wave of spiritual awakening had subsided, euphoria and enthusiasm gave way to a deep hunger in the hearts of God’s people. Thousands began meeting in earnest prayer in cottage meetings. Their desire was to know God more intimately and to experience an even deeper life in the Holy Spirit. Young men began calling on God to restore His spiritual authority and leadership in the Church. Through reading the scriptures, they became convinced of the necessity of God’s ministries of apostle and prophet being restored. Among such men were Daniel Powell Williams and Thomas Jones, who became early pioneers of what is now known as the Apostolic Church of Wales.

Denominational Reaction

Whereas the initial wave of revival power had been received with joy, the further demonstration of God’s presence in the Church that of the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, healings and miracles, was met with widespread resistance. By and large, ‘speaking in tongues’ was viewed as ‘extremism’ or an expression of fleshly behaviour. Many denominations spoke out strongly against these things as ‘works of the devil’. Thousands of believers were forced into leaving their churches.

The subtleties of Satan continued to assault those who were baptised with the Spirit, dividing them over church government, the exercising of spiritual gifts and various different shades of doctrine until within a short time the word ‘Pentecostal’, which had been associated with this outpouring, covered a very wide spectrum of new denominational and non-denominational independent allegiances.

The Harsh Reality

It was while on pilgrimage to the various places that had figured so prominently in that early move of God at the turn of the century that the harsh reality dawned on me. Those great empty chapels, whose rafters had heard the singing of a thousand hearts, whose floors had been washed by the tears of the repentant, were today merely lifeless monuments to a glorious past like extinct volcanoes dotting the Welsh landscape. In many places of worship I saw a mere handful of people, mainly elderly, totally devoid of fervour or enthusiasm, occupying pews near the back of a hall. Sometimes I would stand in the emptiness, tears rolling down my cheeks, not feeling the overwhelming presence of God but rather the sorrowing heart of my Lord. It was difficult to conceive that these were the same places that, in the first two months of the Awakening, had seen some 70,000 converts swept into the Kingdom of God. ‘Ichabod’ (‘glory is departed’) was no longer some obscure Hebrew word but a dreadful reality in the stale and musty air of these chapels. God’s absence was more real than His presence. I began to question deeply the reality and significance of what I had heard and of the reports I had read. If revival had happened, what had gone wrong? What was the purpose of such a mighty visitation of God which ended like this? Within one generation almost all trace of spiritual awakening in Wales had disappeared.

Salutary Lessons of the Time

Although one does not profess to be able to give all the factors involved, some things emerge clearly from a study of that period. Firstly, the revival had been a time of great visitation in saving of souls, sweeping thousands into the Kingdom and filling the churches with a praising people. However, it had not severed the root of self-interest, private agendas, jealousy or denominational and sectarian differences. There are many accounts of ministers of various denominations in the same town burying their differences, shaking hands before the crowds of people and joining together in great services of praise, however, because the axe was not laid to the root, the differences re-emerged as the wave of visitation subsided. Any awakening that does not deal with the root of independence; individualism, sectarianism and denominationalism will be deficient.

Executive bodies, committees and councils began to emerge. The pattern shows all the hallmarks of the subtlety, ingenuity and deception of spiritual forces. Having spoken to many who remember the emergence of these things, I am convinced that it was not the intention of their hearts at that time but a gradual slide which has produced the paralysis of church life existent in much of our country today.

Restoration the Answer

There are prophets of gloom and doom who would say that this is inevitable; that this will always occur. We cannot subscribe to that view. There is, within our hearts, a faith that declares: the Church of God will emerge in unity, in power and in glory at the end time, just as God says it will.

‘In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.’ (Isaiah 2:2).

The Church will be seen as a bride adorned for His appearing

‘I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.’ (Revelation 21:2).

This conviction leads us now to pray with greater understanding concerning the next Awakening. For we now know that a revival that will merely sweep thousands into the Kingdom, filling our chapels and churches is insufficient in itself. Spiritual awakening must restore in the hearts of God’s people a unity that is based, not upon common denominational allegiance, but upon our common relationship through Jesus Christ.

It must be a revival that will restore us to being a people whose sole constitution is the Word of God. We will not look to committees, councils and executive bodies to govern us, nor will democracy be the norm for the churches, but it will be a move of God that will restore apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to function fully in the Body of Christ. These ministries will, in all humility and godly fear, seek His face corporately in every city to lead the church of God forward as a Kingdom of Priests to today’s world. God’s people will recognise and joyfully receive those whom God has set over them in the faith. Our cities will be filled, not with competitive churches, but with a united community of God’s redeemed people, embracing each other as those whom God has accepted. For many this may prove to be an unachievable dream, but for a growing number of others this is a driving objective to their ministry of Restoration. Anything short of this is short of the heart of God.

‘Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.’ (Isaiah 58:12).

Present Pointers

We can view the last fifty years of charismatic outpouring around the world in the light of some of the salutary lessons above. Today the Holy Spirit has brought an acceptance of spiritual gifts and miracle healings throughout the Body of Christ and there is no denomination that has remained entirely untouched. Revival is not enough if it does not restore to us the purity of sanctified life, the blessing of spiritual anointing and gifts, the humility of heart to acknowledge God’s government, and the submission of our lives to those God sets over us in His Church. Revival is not enough if it does not axe through the roots of our denominational differences, independent attitudes or self centred living.

Revival is not enough as far as the heart of God and the needs of our generation are concerned. Revival must give rise to related community life; ecclesiastical appointments must give way to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers working together. Any spiritual awakening that does not ultimately bring these dimensions into the life of the Church will be shallow experience and will inevitably follow the well-trodden path of decline back into the slough of spiritual paralysis and sectarian strife.

So it is that across the world enlightened people are praying and working for nothing less than a great ‘Restoration’ that will return the Church of God to its spiritual foundation – God’s spiritual government and Heaven’s divine power. Revival must lead on to Restoration!

‘Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendour, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion.’ [Isaiah 52:1-2].

‘Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.’ [Isaiah 52:8-10].

‘Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.’ [Isaiah 58:12]“

Guernsey Gazette 2010

One day all annual newsletters will be like this.

We interrupt this blog in order to broadcast an annual cherished august literary phenomenon known as the Guernsey Gazette. Its international popularity is the stuff of legend, and we are shameless in choosing this little piece of ether in which to publish it this year. For those of you ‘tuning in’ to this iGazette who are accustomed to the more tangible calligraphic editions of the past, sorry. This year we have decided to pilot this prototype e-version (or should that be i-version, I’m never sure?) because

  • this blog has proved popular with so many people who don’t normally get sent the regular manuscript Guernsey Gazette (GG) by post; we want you newcomers to share in these previously exclusive joys without incurring additional over-budget expense to ourselves, naturally,
  • we also want to test out whether this method of publication and delivery will cause any significant dents in the supernal popularity of this annual organ, and
  • on-line is so cool, trendy and way-to-go innit?

Moreover, to be blunt, you can like it or lump it, as there was just no way a GG was going to be produced in the normal Noahic way this year in time for the festive posting. Just wouldn’t have happened. So it’s this or nowt.

What normally happens is that around the end of October, Judith opines to Jonathan “Have you thought about what you’re going to write in the Gazette this year?” to which he replies “Don’t be silly, there’s plenty time yet! Summer’s only just gone.” Then, mid November Judith tries again with a “Any progress on the Gazette front?” which is greeted traditionally by “I’ve got loads of things jotted down in my journal.” What this refers to is Jon’s custom during the year to use a page at the back of his trusty Moleskine journal (see here for an explanation) to note down any significant, memorable, funny family happenings which might then be suitably embellished to form the annual Gazette in due time. These last couple of years have seen Jon’s iPhone (4 now – yes, he has upgraded, thanks for asking, and yes, he does like it… very much… almost as much as matrimonially, one might say – ‘one’ being Judith, generally) brought into the fray as a means of recording bits and bobs from life under the notes app.

Come the end of November, Judith’s pleas are beginning to sound liturgical; “I do not want to presume that you’ve finished the Gazette yet, but can I remind you that it will be December next week?” To which Jon intones the antiphon “Calm down dear! No need to worry.” Finally as advent eventually ventures upon us Judith disconsolately attempts one last effort with “Is the GG ready? I’m posting the cards in a few days.” Which is generally met with a ceremonial pause after which Jon’s irascible response is something like “What! How? *¡%?*•$@ €*≠¶¿§! Now you tell me? Why didn’t you warn me? I haven’t even started it yet!”

After another solemn pause usually Jon speaks again, more calmly this time, offering something like “Well at least I’ve got the stuff in my Moleskine and on my iPhone… I’ll work on that”

And this is how events transpired this year, only that when Jon did consult his Moleskine and iPhone the combined list of things to write about consisted of

  • Lucy  > U fys grad job sw/cones
  • Grace > Oli  d/test job
  • Ems > job tall (hair=+12”)
  • Judith + nursing
  • Dad
  • Rom
  • F<Bt
  • L/St P
  • New York?

Now not only did this not add up to much, most of it made very little sense… to anyone, least of all Jon, who began to believe that he’d jotted most of it down whilst asleep. How could this year have been so dull? For one ghastly moment, and, having decided that this was definitely the year to launch iGazette, Jon thought of publishing the whole thing in  Comic Sans just to liven things up a bit. But don’t worry, none of us is that cruel. And then, all of a sudden (Note: has it ever occurred to you what a bizarre expression that is? I mean, as opposed to ‘two thirds of a sudden’ perhaps, or ’37.4% of a sudden’?) revelation, inspiration and not a little perspiration came! How could any of us forget? 2010 was without doubt

THE YEAR OF THE BOAT

This is not our boat... it's one of many cruise liners visiting St Peter Port

So, I hope you are sitting comfortably, as I have a tale to tell. And as it is now so unusually close to Christmas, you deserve to have a glass of something warming in one hand and a nibble or two or something else in t’other. Only that would mean that you could not hold your laptop properly, or have you got an iPad now? Really… how novel and chic. And do you like it? Wait a minute, where was I? Are yes, the boat. Actually maybe that was what ‘F<Bt’ referred on Jon’s iPhone list, not some strange mathematical formula or mistyped reference to Facebook.

Our boat (or to be precise our 50% of boat – as we share it with our good friends

Bare Necessities

Julian & Bebe & their family, and whilst suddens can’t really be split, boats can,) was actually originally purchased in the summer of 2009, but as we spent a few months of that year off the rock and travelling the globe, Jon not returning until late October, we did not really get out more than a couple of times last year. It’s a great little nippy 21ft Sea-Ray sports-powerboat with a small 2 berth cabin and a juicy 275 Mercruiser in the stern.

Certainly our boat has been a major feature of this year, starting from the very beginning since it was as early as on a bright sunny 2 January that Jon & Jules first ventured out in 2010 for a bracing afternoon trip around Herm, Jethou, Sark and Brecqhou, taking in

Fort Brecqhou - the latest Gothic Chateau to be built

Sir David & Sir Fred Barclay’s neo-gothic castle of a folly on the latter as we swept past at 35 knots.

That’s the wonder of the sea in this part of the world; it’s cold but it’s not freezing, you can still enjoy being out on it in the winter. Moreover the numerous little islands around us, and being so close to France, make it so much fun.

Ah! Which brings me to France… and fun! Having had the pleasure of the islands close by, numerous lunches and dinners on Herm, etc. (jealous yet?) Jon suggested that we might venture out later in the summer as far as France, the Normandy coast being only 25-40 miles away depending on which port you call into.  Strangely, Judith agreed. Strangely because whilst our boat is fast, it is also small; it is really the sort of craft you see used for water-skiing and other maritime sports. And so, with Judith having only asked once “Will it be safe?” (and so Jon never having to say in defense anything more complicated than “What could possibly go wrong?”) we invited Bare Necessities‘ other co-parents to join us for an extended lunch in Carteret one Thursday in August.

On the appointed day we found ourselves around 9am sitting on Bare in the Marina having prepped her and awaiting the arrival of Jules and Bebe. After a few minutes we heard from them that Bebe had decided not to come having heard on the shipping forecast that it could be “blowing force 4 locally Force 5”. Now I should say that Jules and Bebe are more experienced sailors than we, having owned a boat for several years before us. So I asked Jules candidly, did he think it was still OK to go? And of course being a male human being, he did, and he’d still like to join us if we did not mind; he wanted to stock up on his French wine supplies. Very wise. That was fine by us, and we comforted one another that a) the forecasts are often wrong, b) from the shelter of the Albert Marina it looked like a mild, sunny day, c) force 4 couldn’t really be that bad, after all it went up to force 11 or something didn’t it? and d) “locally force 5” meant that there might be ‘pockets’ where it felt a bit breezier perhaps.

Leaving St Peter Port

So we set off, heading out of St Peter Port in a South Easterly direction towards Carteret, passing ‘Lower Heads’ south of Herm (sounds painful, but bear with me) and then very soon coasting past the southern tip of Little Sark at a brisk 30 knots. It started to get a little choppy after that, and the sea became what is known technically as ‘confused’, and to the uninitiated as “Oo er, I’m feeling rather queasy!” For those of you who don’t know, the Channel Islands are situated in waters with some of the highest tidal variations in the world; for example it’s not unusual to have 11 metre tides here. On top of that, we are in the Bay of St Malo roughly where the warm North Atlantic Drift, or Gulf Stream meets the cold English Channel, so the tidal currents can also be very strong and strange. Thus we started to get quite wet. I should point out that apart from the small cabin in the bow the rest of the boat is not under cover, so if you are hitting the rollers you get wet at the helm unless you duck in time below the small windshield! And even then… well you get my gist. Moreover you don’t really want to retire to the cabin while she’s bouncing about on the briny as the headroom is er… minimal.

Nevertheless we ventured on and soon past the north-eastern tip of that rectangle to the south of Guernsey, otherwise known as Jersey.  So in under 90 minutes of leaving Guernsey we arrived in the Normandy port of Carteret, which whilst not the closest port we could have chosen, has the advantage of a very good marina and a pretty line of quayside restaurants all serving a mean moules-frites to hungry sea-farers. It was a bright, sunny day and so swallowing our so very nearly emitted emesis and making no comment on the journey to anyone, we moored up and ambled to the nearest refectory to enjoy our déjeuner. And très bon it was too.

Moules à Carteret

The Carteret marina is based in an estuary and so we had some time to kill after lunch before the water level was high enough for us to set off back home. This was fine as we had planned to get supplies (wine and cheese… and fuel it turned out, as typiquement the marina refuelling depot was shut for a mere 6 hours – that’s taking lunch to a ridiculous extreme, but hey! this is France). Eventually having headed back carrying 40L of petrol and a similar amount of wine, we found a group of Jersey guys had moored up alongside us.

“You’re not heading back to Guernsey this evening are you?” asked their skipper. “We’ve been having second thoughts about heading back to Jersey” (which is only about 16 miles due west of Carteret compared to about 40 nor-west to Guernsey). Judith was unfortunately taking a keen interest in their opinion. “It was a bit choppy on the way over,” I retorted “But I’m sure we’ll be fine.” They were not giving in: “Not sure about that” said the one, “It’s blowing force 5 NE and storm clouds out there. And the currents will be against you too.” At this point Judith gave me one of her looks. “Ha! Well good job we’re in a power boat then!” I remarked nervously. “You done the journey before then?” asked the skipper. “Is that the time?” I enquired, of no one in particular, and very soon we were gently motoring out of the marina. That was around 6:45pm.

At around 10pm we made it into St Peter Port. If ever anyone was glad to barely make out in the dark the familiar rocks to avoid in the Little Russel it was us. We had taken over twice the time to get back. At one point, banging up and down on every wall of water that seemed to be being thrown at us, I looked and saw the southern tip of Sark. “Phew!” I thought ‘We’re nearly home.” I asked Julian to take the helm and I fixed the lights up as darkness was falling. An hour later, after some incredible crashing and banging about, I looked again and Sark seemed exactly in the same place. On the portside only 10 miles away or so the northern shoreline of Jersey seemed to be extending itself forever, and I wondered at one point if we’d be better to drop anchor in one of those Crapaud bays for the night.

In all this time Judith exhibited what can be only described as radio silence… with an occasional little whimper, as we were flung involuntarily into the air again and came smacking down on some piece of unfriendly sea which at times resembled liquid concrete. From time to time I asked Judith “Are you OK?” but each time I knew it was a stupid question before the words left my lips. “Just get me home” she whispered on one occasion as she looked up with soulful eyes. We were evidently not doing more than 8 knots and yet we felt like we were going (nowhere) a lot faster.  We used the whole tank of petrol on the way back compared to a third getting over to Carteret!

Enough shipping yarns! Suffice to say, Judith needed a couple of weeks of physio to recover from such jolting, but at least, as I often tell her now, she has a boating tale to tell. Judith’s only comment was “I don’t do exciting.” (This, as you can imagine, has been much quoted now!)

Now the girls have been up to their usual mischief this year. Lucy stupidly went and graduated in the summer,

Lucy eats her hat on graduation day

which was a real shame as she was doing so well at attending her one lecture per week, most weeks. We had really hoped she might continue as a student for at least another decade as there is nothing Jon likes more than paying dirty, disorganised, and socially inept clowns (art college lecturers to the uninitiated) enough money to make them seem important enough to be always off campus at the drop of a hat, travelling the globe on so-called lecture tours, drinking sprees masquerading as research and the like. Not that Jon feels strongly about these things or is opinionated or anything.

Any how, Lucy’s last year included her Final Year Show of course for which she produced an interesting ‘audio art’ piece, which seemed to please her tutors, even if her father failed to see the connection with ‘Fine Art (Painting)’ which was the title of her degree course. Maybe I should have submitted a cowpat for my Music Composition class in my final year? Sorry. Got me on a bit of a band wagon there. Look, she passed, with honours, let’s leave it at that and be grateful. Next to Lucy’s audio piece was a fascinating display by a student who had decided to buy white emulsion from B&Q and to simply paint the walls floor and ceiling white. Simply and badly it seemed. She called it “White” I think, and we were reliably informed that it took 9 months in conceptualisation. Personally I would not trust her to paint my ceiling it was so unevenly finished. Enough! Enough!

So Lucy got her BA (Hons) and returned home like all good students to work part-time in a café for the minimum wage. Actually only for a month or so – this was her regular holiday job – and she’s now landed a great permanent job at Martel-Maides, a top Guernsey Estate Agency & Fine Art Auctioneers. But her café job offered some amusing moments. Lucy told us one day that a French group had ventured in and one man had come to the counter and ordered “Swiss cones”. It was busy and there was no-one else around to ask really, but Lucy was pretty certain when she informed the man “I’m really sorry but we don’t have any.” But he was shocked “But ow eez zat? Ouat do you say?” “We don’t serve swiss cones here” Lucy confidently assured him. “But ouat are zose zen?” he said, pointing at the three scones he was asking for.

Grace passed her driving test earlier this year, amazingly in the snow; this means we can all drive now, except for Emily (but at least even Emily can vote as of this year – as the voting age is 16 now in Guernsey). She can of course also legally procreate, but not purchase alcohol or tobacco, which some would argue are essential before and after medicaments. Her parents meanwhile are not sure whether to rejoice or weep. Also Emily is now “the only one without a boy-friend” as she likes to point out (although Jon regularly reminds her that he does not have a boyfriend either). But the fact remains that Grace has now found Ollie, or vice versa (not sure).

Grace, Ollie, Judith & Lucy... supper in Herm naturally!

Ollie Smith, it turns out, is a good mate of Luke Vidamour (Lucy’s man) as they go back to school days. All four of them were part of ChristChurch London until the middle of this year. Now only Grace remains in London, as a second year Maths undergrad, we having poached back most of our Guernsey students who had been on long-term loan to them! Grace also landed on her feet with a plum job in a local finance house for the holidays. It pays well, she loves it, they like her, they are very generous, her Dad is very relieved, etc.

Emily now towers above everyone except her Dad. Of course her hair adds about 12 inches to her height, and she often gets mistaken as our oldest daughter. She also has a Saturday job, working in the same café in the grounds of Saumarez Manor where Lucy used to work. Emily particularly likes doing the washing up there. All day sometimes. She’s really good at it at home too. Now in her GCSE year, Ems favourite subjects are Cooking (or whatever they call this now? Home Economics? Catering? Food Science? Edible Materials?) Photography, and, you guessed it, Art.

No hair, Big hair...

So all you dirty clowns out there swanning around the globe, lecturing on Whiteness and swigging back Margaritas like there’s no tomorrow, there’s probably another £9k p.a. wending its way towards you from yours truly in the next couple of years. No don’t thank me. You deserve it. You really do. Enough already!

Having returned to nursing part-time Judith continues to work a couple of mornings and one afternoon per week, either in community or clinic services and really enjoys both. It suits us as it’s so flexible and means she can say ‘no’ one week without too much difficulty (or guilt!) Also, the uniforms come in handy…

We visited France again (via car ferry to St Malo) late Summer and enjoyed spending some time with our dear friends the Hayters and then took a slow road south to spend a week with our other dear friends Grahame & Helen Atkins at the maison provençale of still more dear friends Ray & Sue Lowe, in Gignac, kindly loaned to us. En route north afterwards we paid our regular dues in St Palais-sur-mer before returning home.

This year has also included sorties into Romania, where we made some great new friends at churches in Brasov and Iasi. We also accepted a kind invitation from our great friends Gareth and Raye Forsey and visited New York and Connecticut, and spent some time with their growing multicultural church in South Norwalk, like the Romanian churches, this represents a company of people with whom we feel increasingly in mission-partnership.

This year has seen some changes in church staff and the exciting development of a new generation of leaders, Jon calls his ‘Young Lions’ who are beginning to take responsibility and shape the future direction of Church on the Rock. It’s been good again to see many newcomers join us from all over the globe – Africa, America, Australia, Europe… and an exciting new initiative in partnership with a couple of other churches has been the establishment of an on-island Kingdom Theological Training Base, in liaison with NWTP and the Westminster Theological Centre. This is opening up for the first time dynamic, live mission-equipping theological training (at graduate and post-grad level) to a whole group of people who would never have access except going off island at great expense. This is the fulfillment of a dream for Jon as 16 students are currently doing the first year.

New York in December

As the year closes, Will, Jon’s Dad is becoming increasingly weak and frail and we wonder how much longer he will be with us. He is totally at peace with God and in his 98th year is as ready to ‘graduate’ as Millie (Jon’s Mum) was three years ago now. He still lives with us and we need to be around quite a lot at the moment as his mobility is very limited. Which is also partly why this GG did not get done earlier. We hope you have enjoyed this reformation, this first iGazette and we await with anticipation the praise, tributes, honours and accolades, which will no doubt emanate from all four corners of the earth very soon now this is published into the ether. There’s no hurry, but thank you in advance.

Oh, the Aga and the Volvos are doing just fine, thanks for asking.

Until next year, or, if you continue to read this blog – and I advise starting at the beginning to get the full mind-numbing effect, till next time…

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

With love,

JJLGE

(you know where to find us)

P.S. If you sent us a boring newsletter in which the top highlight was your child’s Grade 4 clarinet exam result we forgive you. But we probably won’t have read it anyway, so please forgive us.

Tempus Fugit & Déjà Vu All Over Again

OK, OK, I know it’s been an age (7 months in fact) since I last posted here, but you know we pastors are busy folk with much to do in our six non-working days per week. There are still nearly thirty half-edited posts in draft on this WordPress site and I am resolved now to complete them over the Holiday period and the next few months.

There are several reasons why I have waited until now to continue this blog:

- many of the next few posts relate to my time in the USA and my visit to Bethel Church, Redding in particular (which was the next place I visited after Hillsong, Australia). There were things I experienced, noted and observed during my time there especially which have taken several months to digest and consider before attempting to put them in print;

- I also felt ‘muted’ in making too many immediate comments about Bill Johnson & Bethel Church which might have seemed hasty because on our return about a year ago from my sabbatical Judith and I were stunned by the completely unexpected departure from our home church in Guernsey of a group of around 30 people to form a new church, choosing to cede from association with Newfrontiers and instead to relate to Bethel & the ministry of Bill Johnson;

- Many other people, churches, conferences, teachings, blogs, events, etc. relating to this extraordinary man Bill Johnson have spoken into and helped to shape our consideration of all I experienced and indeed all that happened with us on our return, (and continue to do so). Having drawn a deep breath and gone through having to deal with the ups and downs of other leaders’ and church members’ emotions, as well as our own shock and disappointment, we have found the Lord Jesus still proves to be enough, and his grace to be sufficient! Though we are weak, He remains strong: so we find ourselves in a better place to talk about all this.

- We also now find ourselves, as I write, back in the USA – with our very dear friends Gareth and Raye Forsey, and Bridge Church, South Norwalk CT, to be precise – not far from New York City, which is exactly where I ended my time in the USA last year. This has thus afforded us the time to reflect on all that has happened in the last 12 months objectively and to begin to piece together what we sense the Lord has been teaching us through it.

So… watch this space!

Hillsong #6: I Got All My Sisters With Me

When I were a lad the Sisterhood was something granny and great-granny Methodists went to in order to sip tea, sing Sankey songs and then gently fall asleep one afternoon a month. Hillsong’s Sisterhood, as you may well imagine, is not quite the same. Think sistas more than sisters.

Judith’s concept of Sisterhood from her Elim Pentecostal youth was not a lot different than mine, however she was not shocked to discover that the weekly event that shares the same name at Hillsong Church is in fact more like a RockChicks event at Church on the Rock back at home, except we don’t hold them weekly. RockChicks in turn was actually inspired by Judith’s visits to Hillsong London’s Colour conference so it all links up in the end.

Judith was made welcome and looked after by sistas like Emily at Hillsong's Sisterhood!

And so on Thursday morning while Chris and I enjoyed a macho brunch and a masculine chat about manly things, Judith went to be pampered spiritually and practically with a few thousand other women at the Hills Campus Sisterhood gathering. I can report that she thoroughly enjoyed it, and like virtually all other meetings, services and events during our time there it was inspirational, uplifting and encouraging in a holistic way; not just the teaching received during the meeting, neither just the worship band or choice of songs, nor indeed the prayer and ministry time – it was all these and more. It was the complete experience which had clearly been thought through, prayed through and planned so that no-one coming really had an excuse not to feel welcomed and to engage in some way right from the moment of arrival.

Bobby Houston

Coffee and muffins and stuff were available as the girls arrived, then they all gathered in the Convention Centre for worship, teaching from Bobby Houston and an opportunity to respond in prayer.

When we dropped Judith off a little early at the Centre there was an inviting holy hubbub about the place; coffee stalls were being set up outside to serve drinks and refreshments as women arrived, music playing, host teams preparing to welcome, colourful banners and signs being erected, evidently people had been at work from the early hours setting things up. Both before the meeting and afterwards books, recordings and other resources were available at the bookshop and each lady attending received a small gift as she left the auditorium.

Judith introduces Liz Holden at a recent RockChicks event

One very encouraging aspect of this for Judith was that she felt that RockChicks back in Guernsey was nothing to be embarrassed about. She said whilst Sisterhood was more frequent and much larger of course, the welcome, content, style and opportunity for the Spirit of God to move and empower was very much the same! It was an inspiring encouragement that Judith and her team are headed in the right direction.

Later that day we both attended a Creative Ministry evening where around 200 gathered in the Hills Campus Chapel. This gathering made up of the various creative ministry teams in the church, arrived from around 6.30pm firstly when refreshments were being served, then someone led us in worship (a simple guitar and bass set), then a time of information and teaching (lasting about 45 minutes) followed by breaking up into groups – music bands, singers, artists, teams building stage sets etc., song-writers, AV teams, and many other creative bods going off in different directions to spend time rehearsing, working on ideas for future services and events and the like.

These were nearly all volunteers and it was most impressive and moving to see the emphasis and centrality on worship, prayer, teaching and ministry first before they all got into doing stuff. This is a hallmark of everything this church does, and they are not being super-spiritual in doing so as some might be. Rather this is part of their DNA and therefore a vital aspect of their corporate lives together. It all comes so naturally. Moreover it means that regularly trainees, interns and junior leaders are given space to lead worship, minister and teach, which perhaps otherwise would rarely happen in a church this size. Gifts are tested, nurtured and matured through use – even through making mistakes, so it is healthy to have a safe environment for emerging leaders to develop and experience how God uses them. I understand these Creative gatherings are currently held fortnightly in this format.

This was the end of a long and fulfilling day. As we hit the sack that night we talked of how inspirational it was for both of us being around these beautiful Christians, and I wrote in my journal “This church is so attractive, it’s large but it’s still family, the people are naturally supernatural; we really can’t help but be caught up into a passionate lifestyle of worshipping and serving Jesus…”

Augustine on an iPhone

Below you will find my notes from a lecture I attended at Hillsong College. I took them on my iPhone Notes app – a first for me, as I went in unprepared to be so engrossed that I’d want to take notes! (See previous post).

They appear here as I took them, unedited, typos, spellos, my own abbreviations (btw why is abbreviation such a long word?) So, for those of you who are interested, let’s see if you can make sense of my fingers and thumbs…

Dr Neil Ormerod - Lecturing on Augustine's De Trinitate

Hillsong College: Lecture
Augustine & De Trinitate – Dr Neil Ormerod (RC)
Rec Bernard Lonergan – Augustine
Grace – understood common sense wise or theoretically.
Lonergan suggests another realm – interiority: the object being our own operations. What does our questioning say about us? Understanding why & how we get to common sense or theoretical conclusions.

In De Trinitate book 8 Augustine begins to argue from the practical “you know what this is like… You can work this out”

What is A doing in De Trin?
bk 1-4: scriptural argument vs Arius & Arians ie whatever attributes are given to the Father is given to the son. Effectively Homoousios but using scriptural language: whatever is true of the F is true of the Son & the Spirit. A’s hermeneutic rule: what is the context of the scripture. Sometimes Jesus is talking about his humanity & others his divinity. He anticipates Chalcedon in developing a 2 nature Christology.
Also… The Father sends the Spirit (texts); Jesus sends the Spirit… so the Sp proceeds from the F & the Son.
With Arius the church had to use & understand his language to address the issues he was raising. These bks 1-4 have a limited impact, acknowledged by A himself, he indicates a shift at the end of bk 4, and bks 5-7 are not based on script arguments. He introduces 10 categories from Aristotle. This provides a theoretical framework for a philosophical argument. The Q now is ‘in the one God how can we make distinctions’ – substance, person, essence, accidence, location …  and esp Relation – this provides a distiction which does not impact upon the unity of the godhead. He takes issue with the Cappodocean fathers for not making proper distinction between categories.
The category of person is esp important. Persons are defined by their relationships, processions. Other things are attributes. These attributes pertain to the divine substance not individually to the person. BUT The term person is not an attribute of being. For there are 3 persons not one.

Aug did not really comment on ‘one substance': homoousios’ substance refers to ‘under-standing’ ie the Father & the Son are of the same understanding. Tertullian confuses things stoically & empirically however as he uses ‘substance’ to mean ‘stuff’. Descartes similarly muddles things by defining substance as about what ‘stands under’.

In proceeding from the Father the spirit is different from the son. We say the father is the f of the son; and the son is the son of the father; The spirit is the spirit of the father but the father is not the father if the spirit. One is symmetrical the other is not. Aquinas in his Summa Theologica takes this further. But the Arian argument does not follow that because the father is not begotten as the son is begotten we cannot say that this is a non reln argument with respect to the father.
One script text in bk5-7 majored on, rel to common sense – theory: Jesus is the power of God & wisdom of God. These are attributes & in the realm of theory this does not make sense. He argues this is an appropriate way of speaking (an ‘appropriation’) so we need to recognise the general way scripture talks in certain places.
End of bk 7: reln between God & the creature; how is it that we might enter into the Trinitarian relationships. Robert Doran takes this up more recently.
{break 20 mins}
Bk 8 talking about a more inward realm (interiority). Like 5 finger exercises. Eg have you experienced this? Have you thought about that? Now he is coming from a faith seeking understanding. Eg. Given this doctrine, what are the ways we understand God as Trinity? Takes issue with tradtional ways because of their materialistic analogies, eg. Water, ice, steam; tree – root, branches, trunk.
Turns to human beings – made in His image. Lover, beloved, loving. Mind, knowledge, love. Understanding – conceive – concept. Understanding – speak – word (but internally not orally). AHA! moment because YOU understand. Like a judgment: we weigh up the options, we judge the possibilities. The interior word of God is the YES of judgement. Eg. Paul says in Jesus there is no yes and no, there is only Yes. So its scriptural basis is fd in Jn1 and in Paul. The Father’s ‘generation’ of the son is like a perfect concept. One speaking, the other spoken. Identity between the known and the knowing – the psychological response to the Arians. Speaker – Word.
Bk 10 – hard
Bk 11 – ex of analogies
Bk 12 – back to theology, scripture, the Cross. Transcendence – where we know & love God. Final section here is very prayerful & worshipful. Can we have an analogy that is based on my knowledge of God & my love of God: a realm of grace. Admits that you cannot do it, and comes back to his lover, beloved, loving analogy.

Hillsong #5: Invisible Scaffolding

Building with bamboo!

The bamboo scaffolding we’d observed being used to construct massive sky-scrapers in Hong Kong was very visible, very strong and very flexible. Although very strange to western eyes, this was totally appropriate for use in building massive high-rise blocks in a place where typhoons and strong winds can provide adverse conditions at any moment.

The massive edifice that is Hillsong also has scaffolding being used in its construction; it is equally strong, flexible and appropriate, however much of it is invisible.

I wrote about the campus strategy in the last post; now I want to outline the second equally revelationary growth strategy that I discovered. Again, this was not unique to Hillsong Church or to Australia. A similar phenomenon would be pointed out to me several weeks later at Mars Hill Church Seattle. The strategy was most clearly defined to me in Sydney by one of the senior leaders who had been with the church for many years and so had been part of the outworking. It is this: The leadership of Hillsong Church unashamedly concentrates on a few areas in which the Holy Spirit has gifted the church, and in so doing seeks to trust God for the outworking of other areas where it is weak. In other words they do not seek to work hard on making up for their weaknesses at the expense of their strengths. No, rather they invest more in their strengths and talents; they strengthen their strengths, working through them to accomplish all the things they are believing God for.

In this respect I met with a remarkable degree of humility and honesty from pastors and leaders; they would often openly confess “That is not one of our strengths” and I pondered a lot on the significance of this frankness. One leader asked me if I’d noticed anything unusual about the number of visiting speakers they hosted at Hillsong. I confessed that I had not really thought about this, however as we talked it was clear that for a church of this magnitude it was indeed slightly unusual that they invited so many guest speakers on a regular basis. Brian Houston certainly seems to undertake a lion’s share of the preaching, but nearly every other week there does seem to be a visiting speaker from elsewhere speaking at one of the meetings or at a special event. The reason given was that preaching and teaching is not one of their main strengths, and, although no-one would exactly call it a weakness either, Robert Fergusson clearly is an anointed expository preacher, however they have not majored on trying to build the church in this way as others might.

Instead they have and continue to identify their unique God-given strengths and put effort into developing these. We discussed what these were and I discerned from my conversations what was emerging as the top three ‘main strengths’. Although the Hillsong leadership would probably use other terminology, I feel the best way to categorize them for this purpose would be under the general headings of:

Worship and Music Ministry (exemplified most easily through Hillsongs near global influence in song-writing and worship style. Need I say more?)

Reaching & Gathering Young People (the 15-45 age group has been the most unreached and under-represented age demographic in Western Church – Hillsong are strong reaching and keeping in this age group)

Engaging & Integrating People Effectively & Culturally into Community (the many culturally engaging ways in which they connect with, and equip so many people into becoming a serving community)

In a way this strategy went against the grain for me. I have tended to feel there are things we just have to do as a church or leadership in which we are weak or do not have particular anointing in; the need is there so we just have to fulfill it. But at the same time I realised I had also become critical of churches who recruited to make up for their weaknesses from the outside. So this was somewhat inconsistent on my part! Nevertheless I regularly justified my view by quoting Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “do the job of an evangelist” [2 Tim 4:5] where, by implication, it would seem Timothy is instructed to do something he is not especially gifted or called to do, but falls under the heading of “duties” which you undertake just because you are a minister of the Gospel.

During my time away as I meditated on these things I felt God persuade me that I had been wrong about this. I concluded that this was not the norm. I saw in Jesus how he testified “I only do what I see the Father doing” [John 5:19] – indeed this comes on the back of the incident earlier in the chapter when Jesus had just healed one man at the Bethesda Pool when clearly there were many more in need of healing all around. This was not of course a sign of weakness in Jesus. On the contrary it was a sign of his being focused on God the Father, setting his face like flint towards the goal of his mission, a sign of absolute trust in God to deal with everything else if we simply do what he requires us to do. This seems to be truly seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in the sure hope that everything else will be added unto us.

Similarly I saw how Paul encouraged Timothy on more than one occasion to “stir up the gift of God” in him – clearly the things he was gifted in, and in fact in 1 Tim 4:14-15 Paul writes “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” This seems to be an encouragement or even perhaps a warning to Timothy not to forget investing in his main gifting and become a generalist in ministry, or perhaps get caught up in so many areas where he was not gifted that he neglected his God-given, prophetically identified and anointed gift, at the expense of trying to meet all the needs around him.

Doing a few things well may not sound very sexy as a job description but it is certainly how a Kingdom extending church like Hillsong has managed to remain strong and focused on bearing fruit that remains.

There is one final aspect relating to this strategy that needs to be highlighted. It falls under the third category relating to the way in which Hillsong Church connect with and equip many people into becoming a serving community.

Duncan Corby

It was clearly identified for me during my thoroughly enjoyable conversations with a very cool-headed and genial man called Duncan Corby who is effectively the person we would call Vice-Principal of Hillsong’s International Leadership College; a fully university-validated tertiary theological school for undergraduates and post-graduates which was established twenty years ago and has now built up into a training base for thousands of students today. This is the College at which Chris Parkes has been studying for past few years. Duncan is a clear thinking, enthusiastic, hands-on trainer – not an ivory tower academic. He is not only intelligent, he is a very likeable fellow with a real zeal for God and for His church. It is evident that he loves what he does and he spoke passionately with me about how the College had grown, their curriculum development – for which he is largely responsible – and the importance of the College in the whole ethos of what Hillsong stands for as a church with a particular vision. He also talked with me about his aspirations for Chris, with whom he is undoubtedly impressed!

Part of the multi-functional gallery of the Convention Centre being prepared for use as a lecture theatre

I too was certainly impressed with the standards of training at Hillsong College; in fact it is fair to say that I was very pleasantly surprised at the depth and breadth of the theological and doctrinal study being done. This was not what I had anticipated experiencing at a Pentecostal Seminary and I had to repent of my poor attitude. I’m not sure where my low expectations came from – I searched my memory in vain – so perhaps it was just plain, simple and ugly prejudice on my part!  Whatever the case I certainly had to repent for what I saw at Hillsong College was very healthy in terms of well-rounded Christian doctrine and understanding.

Let me illustrate this: One afternoon that week I accompanied Chris to a 3 hour lecture on Augustine’s epic and significant apologetic defending Trinitarian Theology De Trinitate. It was hosted by the Hillsong College lecturer responsible for the doctrinal unit being taught, but the teaching on this day was delivered by Dr Neil Ormerod, a Roman Catholic visiting lecturer who was also an expert in Augustinian theology. Dr Ormerod is a Professor of Theology, and indeed Director of the Institute of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at the Australian Catholic University. He is not someone I would have expected to hear teaching at Hillsong! He was warmly welcomed, and well received by the students. Greatly inspired by the works of Bernard Lonergan a Jesuit theologian, Neil gave us first a comprehensive overview of Augustine’s life and thought as it related to De Trinitate, followed by a contextualisation of the issues being tackled in the work, then he gave a well structured basic survey of the arguments of each book in the treatise.

Dr Neil Ormerod lecturing at Hillsong College

I was transfixed – the three hours passed in no time at all and I could have continued for another three without blinking an eye! I found myself taking copious notes on my iPhone’s Notes application – not the easiest of tasks as those of you who have tried two finger typing historical, theological and philosophical information as fast as you can using a screen the size of a… well, a phone, in fact… will understand. [For those of you who like this kind of thing - theology I mean - I will endeavour to upload my notes onto this blog as is, i.e. like they currently appear saved on my iPhone, to see whether you can make head or tale of my jargon and abbreviations! For those of you who don't enjoy this kind of thing, take this as a warning to skip the next post.]

So the Church and thus the College take seriously the task to identify, raise up and equip existing and potential leaders in Word, Spirit and Deed. All the College students are engaged ipso facto in various aspects of Church life and leadership. Serving for them is part of their training and as such it means the church has at its disposal an army of volunteers with the time, desire and inclination to put into practice what they learn. This means on a Sunday students can be found all over, in set-up teams, children’s ministry, youth work, bands, singers, Audio-Visual teams, host-teams, serving drinks, setting out chairs, flyers, hand-outs, leading groups of other volunteers, praying in ministry teams… you name it. During the week they are leading small groups, preparing curriculum, rehearsing music, drama, dance, evangelising, creating promotional material, following up visitors and new Christians. In turn this creates a culture within the whole church of volunteerism, for there are several thousand students among the 20,000+ attenders, nearly 10% of the church. As someone pointed out to me without a hint of cynicism “… and they pay us for the privilege!”

Students originate from within the local church as well as many from other churches in Australia, New Zealand, the Asia-Pacific area, and indeed the world over. There have been five Guernsey students studying there in recent years! Many come from different ethnic backgrounds which helps add to the church’s international flavour. They come to study and specialise in Worship Music, Pastoral Leadership, Media, Dance as well as to undertake the more Theologically based Degree Programme. Some are on courses which last just a year, others three or four years, but the student ethos is a huge part of church life because of the numbers involved. A large proportion of students stay on to become leaders in the church, serve overseas on mission, or to find work nearby and remain active, well-trained members. All the students we met were motivated, happy, thoroughly engaged in church life, buzzing I would say!

Duncan pointed all this out to me. He clearly believes they would not be where they are today as a Church in terms of ethos and size without the College and the students and I believe he could be right. The teaching and learning environment, energy, creativity and sheer momentum provided by such a large body of young people ready and willing to serve the Lord Jesus surely adds something special to this special church.

Hillsong #4: Campus Crusade

Hillsong Church's City Campus in Sydney's Waterloo area

It would be a phenomenon that I would observe in many others places on these travels – Redding, Seattle, New York – but I saw experienced and saw it at work first at Hillsong Church Sydney. It was not new to me, but often it seems to make a real difference seeing things work in the flesh compared to reading about them in a book, or hearing them described in a seminar.

What I saw was simply this – Hillsong Church, like many others, is evangelizing and growing most effectively through a campus strategy. What I mean by this is that the church does not seek to grow one meeting in one place by trying to make that meeting serve all kinds of needs, and overcome all the multiplicity of cross-cultural mission issues that are commonly found in any cosmopolitan metropolis these days. Neither does the church just seek larger meeting places in order to accommodate more people. Certainly it can already accommodate thousands. But even a mega-church needs to keep advancing and growing in order to fulfill the great commission, and Hillsong does not look to do this through just seeking to attract more people to its current services. No, instead the church seeks to reach and serve as many people as possible by providing as many options as possible for as many people as possible to experience the presence of God in a church service, hear the Gospel, be included in a spiritual community, feel like they belong, engage, etc.

This is achieved through establishing fresh congregations or campuses. Depending on how you define your terminology, these refer to different times and locations of services. I tend to mean the following by these terms:

campus = a separate geographical venue or location for a church gathering

congregation = a particular group of people meeting at a specific time

Hillsong has been innovative and flexible with its strategy in these areas over the years. Obviously because it sees itself as a city church and thereby reaches out to a cosmopolitan area inhabited by multiple millions, there are many differences between the manner in which this church goes about things and the way in which we might do things as a church on a rock inhabited by 65,000 people. There would still be marked differences if we were comparing it to a city of perhaps 500,000. Nevertheless there are, I believe, fundamental principles at work which can speak to us in Guernsey and indeed into every situation if we are teachable and wise.

Most days I spent meeting a pastor or leader responsible for a particular area of ministry, training or pastoral oversight. Some had been in leadership, indeed in membership at Hillsong Church for only a few years, others virtually since the beginning in the early 1980s. There was nevertheless a clear picture which emerged from my conversations with each of them. I was seeking answers to the questions I had formulated long before I set out on this time away, and we spent time at each meeting talking through some of these issues. (See blog entry Tempus Fugit for details of these questions.)

There are two specific strategies which seemed to help answer my questions at Hillsong. As my time spent there developed the Lord seemed to anoint both of these phenomena particularly in my thinking so that I would say they both became a revelation to me of God speaking directly to my heart for revival and church growth. I will talk about the second of these in the next post. Here I will cover the campus strategy. Certainly this strategy at Hillsong impinges upon the first three of my questions. Right from the very start, it was seemingly in Hillsong’s DNA to establish campuses in order to reach people who would otherwise struggle to come regularly to church or feel part of a community, and catch them up in the vision and mission of the church. A campus in this sense is not an independent church, although it may look different on the surface in size and make-up. It is one in mission.  As mentioned in a previous post, the Hills

Old Logo of Hills Christian Life Centre

Christian Life Centre (as Hillsong was originally called) was established in the Northern Suburbs of the city by Sydney Christian Life Centre (SCLC – now the city campus of Hillsong Church) largely because there was a massive suburban housing development taking place in the late 70s and 80s; in order to reach the many thousands of people moving into these new towns and estates, the leaders of SCLC at the time realized they needed to establish a presence right there in the centre of things. You don’t have to get terribly spiritual to think through this, although it is clearly what happened in the days of the early church, as you discover in the book of Acts – when people moved out of Jerusalem into the surrounding areas, even when the reason was persecution, they took the Gospel and therefore the Church with them. Other expressions of human community and activity also establish and reestablish and develop themselves in this way, e.g. schools, sports clubs, societies, associations, super-markets, banks, shopping malls, even offices, work-places and government agencies.

Certainly there are some people who are willing to travel or drive (if they can afford to) through miles of suburban traffic and past many alternatives in order to get their child to the right school. However for the vast majority this is not a viable option. As a result, schools, clubs, shops, etc. get established near where people live and work because these institutions are people-focused, community-dependent, and empower people to make the choice to use them. The church of Jesus is God-focused and therefore also people focused and people-empowering, because God so loved the world He did not wait for the world to come to Him (we could not!) He took the initiative and came to us. And wherever the church of Jesus exists it should empower people to experience God – it should give those who currently do not or cannot experience the presence of God and the family of God the opportunity of choosing to do so. The church is a community within the community, a city within the city, for the glory of God and extension of His Kingdom.

Jesus modelled this principle by going from village to village and town to town preaching the message of the Kingdom of Heaven; he did not expect everyone to come to Nazareth Community Church! In fact more than that, he trained and appointed the Twelve also to go about preaching the Good News into more regions beyond. So I’m saying there is a pattern to follow here based on a missional principle. You can even discover in the New Testament what happens when this is not the focus of attention – it took persecution and the raising up of Paul and Barnabas at Antioch to refocus Christians on the as yet unreached – to get on with the very last instructions of the Lord here on earth – Matt 28; the Jerusalem church and leadership seemed somewhat caught up in their own little ‘Jewish world’ to begin with. We must remember that the ‘ends of the earth’ start at the ends of our streets!

As a local church Hillsong has established multiple campuses and congregations in the city (even now into Brisbane which is nearly 1000km/600 miles away). It is true that its City and Brisbane campuses are effectively adoptions of existing churches, but the principle remains. Additionally Hillsong has over a dozen other campuses meeting in school halls and other rented buildings each weekend. Hillsong Church does not call these campuses – although they fit my definition – instead these are referred to as extension services and are aimed at local communities of various ethnic, national, cultural or language backgrounds. These communities often link with either the Hills Campus or City Campus for Sunday evening services (which are not duplicates of the Sunday morning services).

The advantage of a campus philosophy is that in this way resources and can be shared and you are not so dependent on raising up all the additional infrastructure you need to make church happen in each location. Key ministries can be shared, training can be shared, funding can be shared, there is better stewardship, things can be done in bulk, there are more opportunities to serve, be an apprentice, strengths can be shared and weaknesses covered more easily. Hillsong have developed these strengths in every area and continue to do so. By using common ministry models in a manner which might be described in the world of commerce as branding they create a larger net to work with, eg. their women’s ministry – Sisterhood and its annual Colour Conference, their various children and youth ministries – Hillsong Kids (primary school age), Fuel (school years 7-9), Wildlife (years 10-12), Powerhouse (ages 18-25), Frontline (25-35), can all be resources and developed centrally, hold joint camps, events and training;  a small success can be celebrated and enjoyed by all, creative excellence can be achieved, a broader group of people are reached, and costs are kept to a minimum, particularly in areas such as children’s curriculum development, and event promotion.

Chris with Nathan McLean, Children's Pastor

Although it may not be visible unless you search hard and deliberately for it, much is made of the use of technology, especially information on databases, communication using IT, and a standardized method of integration and follow-up of all newcomers. I was given a glimpse into how this works and I must say it looks excellent, especially from a pastoral perspective, and especially too for the purpose of minimising communication and information failures as the church grows. It is inappropriate to go into great detail here; suffice to say that there is a clear understanding of how membership is expressed – not by a signing on the dotted line attitude, nor by having completed a course, certainly not by giving a tithe, although none of these things are despised in themselves. Rather, the pastors and key leaders see membership expressed in various degrees from simply regularly attending a worship service, belonging to a Connect Group (home groups which meet fortnightly), or serving in a ministry area, and then right the way through to becoming a pastor or key leader. This flexible, grace-focused paradigm helps the leadership “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” as they watch over the growing flock of God in accordance with the teaching of Paul in 2 Tim 4:2.

Hillsong #3: Transformed Lives Transform Lives

Jesus = Hope

It soon became very clear during our time at Hillsong that seeing lives transformed was a common thread running through everything that goes on. So many people we met shared their testimony with such genuine thankfulness and joy – finding Jesus had really been for them the life-changing catalyst it should be. Those we met – pastors, students, leaders, serving members, young and old – regularly and unashamedly spoke of the grace of God at work in their lives, and at each meeting there were testimonies of one kind or another, whether on video, personally shared or communicated as prayerful thankfulness by one of the leaders, all inspiring faith and hope that God is in the business of transforming lives today.

It soon dawned on me that we, indeed I, do not do this nearly enough. Many of the testimonies and stories I heard were not revolutionary tales (some were!) but simple recognition of the hand of God by His Spirit at work in ordinary daily life. It was truly an attitude of gratitude – not forced or fake – but in keeping with this cultural lack of cynicism, a real acknowledgment of trust and active joyful faith. I should, we should be more like this. And we can be!

The clear effect of this culture is that it feeds itself, it encourages others, it helps build faith and hunger in others for more. This was not some shallow optimism or refusal to accept pain and hardship – quite the opposite. Several stories were real tales of overcoming, and some were still in the midst of overcoming but displaying thankful hearts for present mercies. This did not seem like unreality, rather the deliberate fostering of a ‘Jesus focused culture’ which was contagious.

Chris with Frontline Pastor Brenden Brown

Brenden Brown was one person I met with a revolutionary tale; meeting this humble leader who gave up his valuable time to answer my questions and help me understand how the church lives and breathes was one of those occasions when you know you are being changed through just being with someone. At the end of our time talking I simply asked a few more personal questions and quickly I became aware that I was in the presence of someone whose passion for Jesus and to see the Gospel transform lives is backed up by his own testimony of grace. Brenden is married to Jacquie and has a young son, he is now a Pastor at Hillsong and responsible for Frontline (the 25-35 age group).

As an aside, both Judith and I were encouraged to see that the “youth ministry” at Hillsong goes all the way up to 35! By being only 10 years outside the bracket to be included in the youth we felt strangely young and carefree again!

When Brenden speaks he talks with passion about his calling, the people and teams he works with, the outreach they are planning, the care-filled pastoral network that they have purposefully built to ensure that they minimise any feeling of being left out or not belonging. He seems energised and proactive about his whole life. But things were not always as hope-filled and positive for Brenden. His story of how his life was arrested by the grace of God, as he was headed for self-destruction, really touched my heart. To see him now a happy husband, doting dad, and influential leader of an aspiring vital generation of young people was truly inspirational. To hear how the love of Christ extended through Christians at Hillsong had brought him into new friendship, a sense of belonging, a new identity and then very quickly the power of the grace of God lived out through his new family transformed him from the life of a loser to being a leader of thousands – well, I can only say it truly touched my heart deeply.

There is no doubt in my mind that at Hillsong Church you can see all around that transformed lives do transform lives!

Thousands of lives transformed by Jesus!

Hillsong #2: Smaller Than We Expected, Bigger Than We Imagined

“The Australian Book of Etiquette is a very slim volume” – Paul Theroux

I’ve got to be frank about what I’m going to say here, because I’m aware that there are others who have felt like us in some way. So if you’re not in this category you are either a) a very lovely godly uncynical person, or b) a member of Hillsong Church, or probably both. What I’m on about here is this: I knew I would be visiting a mega-church, I knew Hillsong Sydney was very large indeed, I knew that this church produced very high quality, slickly produced worship music albums acclaimed globally, I knew there was a high investment in excellently produced and presented worship services, I knew the church regularly hosted international conferences and invited international guest speakers who were often leaders of mega-churches and mega-ministries in their own right, I knew they would likely have big facilities, big premises, big people, big grounds, big car-parks… and so I expected, at least subconsciously, to feel like I was attending an event, certainly an excellently run event, but an event never-the-less, some spectator-sport,  an impersonal experience, feeling like an individual in a crowd of individuals. This is what we both expected.

How wrong we were!

Also, it is clear that when Paul Theroux wrote his witty aphorism, above, he was not referring to Hillsong Church Sydney. For what we found there was quite the opposite of what we expected, and certainly no caricatured rudeness, neither of course were there any stuck-up anglicanish airs-and-graces either, rather we found ourselves amongst a large, yea, verily, very enormous family of Christ-centred lovers of God, of one another and of people, that I think we have ever come across!

Hillsong was bigger than we imagined and smaller than we expected!

Hi - God

Lots of creative art, designs and media to communicate the Gospel

Everywhere we went, everything we went to, everyone we met, almost without exception gave us the same impression, the same feeling: this was a church that was successfully managing to keep a big heart as it grew. This was a growing, evangelizing, discipling community that retained its value on relationships; it felt like you weren’t just a spectator, you were a valued participator in this Gospel revolution that is Hillsong. Add this to the cultural lack of cynicism in the church I mentioned previously and maybe you can see why we were regularly humbled by this.

I attended a large church whilst I was studying at La Sorbonne, Paris, in the mid-80s. Le Point du Jour was a thriving church, 800 or so attended regularly – very large for then, very large for France even now! Whilst I made some good friends and really enjoyed my time there (and Paris!) it was an eye-opener for me in terms of big-church experience. The church met at the time in a semi-converted cinema in the west of the city. (I say semi-converted because the church had kept the fixed plush cinema seats, which like separate arm-chairs you could literally sink into! These were really totally inappropriate for keeping people awake during sermons – the exact antithesis of the Methodist pews I knew as a teenager!) Each week I attended for most of the first semester I was asked by someone if it was my première fois! It was amusing to begin with, then I found myself getting a little upset being thought of as a first-time visitor each week, especially when I was desperately trying to feel part of the church. The fact it that it was pretty easy to turn up each week for a good worship service and just remain anonymous in the large crowd. Of course some newcomers at church like to feel anonymous, at least to begin with, but when you want to belong it doesn’t help. It was when you began to feel like no-one noticed you, so no-one would notice or care if you were not there, that it started to become lonely and sad.

I found out that there was a regular young people’s meeting, but this was held on the exact opposite side of the city to where I lived and it started and therefore finished late so the couple of times I attended I had to leave before the end in order to get back to my digs. So I didn’t really get to know anyone there either as I always missed the coffee & fellowship time at the end. Part of their problem in this church which looked successful from so many angles was the rapidity of growth – at least that’s how I see it now; they had grown so fast there had been little planning for what increased numbers would entail. They did have a type of welcome/host team set up on a Sunday but the layout of the building was such that you could be so easily missed going in and out. Those days were without the benefits of the internet, electronic communication, mobile phones, SMS texting or even computers in churches really. So the concepts of printed response forms and flyers were not really strategically developed as far as I can remember, certainly not in the French churches. As a result I felt like an anonymous head in the crowd for a long time; and I was already a believer, and wanting, indeed trying to feel part of things. How would a timid seeker have felt?

Gordon Neal today

Three things redeemed this situation for me; one of the elders, a lovely man by the name of Gordon Neal, invited me to a mid-week group which met in his home in the eastern suburbs of Paris. For one, this was nearer where I was living at the time and so the journeys were not so long. Gordon, a francophone Briton who was something big in Nestlé, was warm and friendly but evidently a very busy man in the secular world as well as in the church. (Today, released from secular employment, Gordon is now one of the co-pastors of our Newfrontiers church in Paris!) Sadly this home-group only ran for a few weeks before he had to end it due to pressure of work. However Gordon was very helpful to me at the time in that, hearing I was musical and had a sense of calling to leadership, he introduced me to two people, one who was a leader of the church’s worship ministry, and the other who helped run an evangelistic outreach, in conjunction with Youth With A Mission (YWAM), in the open square just outside the Centre Georges Pompidou every Friday night. For the rest of my time in Paris engagement with some brilliant jazz musicians from the worship band, and regular forays with creative street evangelists on a Friday night kept me actively involved with this large church. The Friday nights were particularly exciting – it was here I first came across really effective Christian street drama, Christian folk-artists, fire-eaters, etc. We prayed on the streets for people every week and I got regular opportunities to preach and share testimony in an exciting and sometimes hostile environment! It had to be said however that the Sunday church services remained slightly detached for me as a result!

Centre Georges Pompidou & plaza, Le Baubourg, Paris

It is certainly through fostering and maintaining strong, healthy relationships that a sense of family and belonging can be kept in a large, expanding church. When a church is small, perhaps 20-50 people it is possible to do this almost without trying, but as it grows past 100, and especially 150 there are dynamics which come into play whereby unless something deliberate is done that sense of belonging easily dissipates and it becomes difficult for newcomers to be added into the community. Cultural issues also come into play making it difficult to integrate. Hillsong Church has definitely been deliberate about seeking to keep that sense of belonging as they have grown, but as I found out, they had to learn this and engage with the culture around them. You can see some of this learning curve at work in the very first Christian community in Acts 6.

Back to Sydney, Hillsong Church and 2009!

The first day at the Hills Campus I went to visit the Hillsong Conferences Office where Chris Parkes works a part-time post in administration which helps pay his bills. His boss, Autumn, is a lovely lady responsible for a small staff who run not just the conferences Hillsong host in Australia but often elsewhere also. The office also does some event management and mailing work for a couple of other charities and so it is never dull. With media such as TV and internet as well as books DVDs and CDs these days there are often times when the staff are working around the clock as well as recruiting a whole load of extra volunteers to come in and help when a big church conference in about to roll or in the follow-up just afterwards. As with everything and everyone we saw that week the level of volunteer support and servant-heartedness is really second to none. It was very inspiring.

Chris Parkes with Sam DiMauro

A little later I met Sam DiMauro who kindly showed me around the whole of the huge 21 acre campus, with all its various buildings and facilities. Sam is a Powerhouse (18-25 age group) Pastor and responsible for the early morning 8.45 service each Sunday. On a Sunday morning most rooms and public spaces in this multi-facility site are utilised. Sam showed me the original building – a large block nondescript edifice which houses the main church offices for pastors and staff, a 1000+ seat auditorium, Hillsong International Leadership College Headquarters, a main reception area and foyer, training facilities,

The auditorium at Hillsong Convention Centre - at weekends this is pumping with people!

The auditorium, Hillsong Convention Centre - at weekends this is pumping with people!

children’s and youth halls, counselling rooms, seminar spaces, creative arts facilities, design workshops, dance studios, music practice rooms etc. Then we walked across to the fairly new Convention Centre where the largest weekly gatherings are held. This is a large round building, with effectively two main entrances and miles of circulation space. It was been exceedingly well designed to incorporate lounge areas, books & resources shops, flexible spaces for coffee and refreshment, hosting smaller functions, hospitality, etc., as well as the massive auditorium which can accommodate over 3500. Even this has been cleverly designed to appear smaller than it actually is, with the ability to walk down from galleries all the way to the ground level. Sections of the gallery can also be divided up so as to provide lecture-theatre style spaces for use by the College during the week. As a result it is certainly not one of those church buildings which is only used at weekends.

Outside across the extensive car-park stands a smaller building known as the Chapel. This edifice is of modern ecclesiastic architecture, and has been deliberately designed for events such as weddings and funerals where a smaller congregation is expected and also where presumably a ‘conference hall’ atmosphere is not so appropriate!  It seats around 150 I would guess in “comfortable pews” and is also used on Sundays and other days for events like Chinese translation extension services, creative arts and worship team gatherings, etc.

Interior of the Chapel

Sam showed me some nearby land and buildings which are being purchased by Hillsong for future use. At the moment the church has to rent some facilities (e.g. where Chris works in the Conferences Office) and it would be better stewardship in the long-term if this could be reduced. We then walked down to the nearby shopping mall for a coffee and chat – the first of many occasions that week where I would find myself with one of the many people I met enjoying an espresso or a latte in Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop – the Starbucks of Sydney! Sam shared his testimony with me – and what an amazing story of grace – one of many I would hear during our time there.

This is indeed an amazing community of servant-hearted joy-filled disciples, steadily determined and pressing forward with the good news of Jesus, seeing lives transformed, healed, restored and integrated into a true family of faith. Moreover, like Sam, many find themselves being arrested by the Holy Spirit’s call, equipped and trained, and fast-tracked into leadership where their creative gifts and skills coupled with an integrity and humility which was evident all around, are put to immediate use for the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom.

We loved being amongst such saints!