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


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,


(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!

Contemplation, contemplation, contemplation…

We had planned to rent a car the next day, to take a day out, away, to talk, walk, and to contemplate all that we had seen and experienced so far. The Lord was continuing to speak to us personally, individually and as a couple, but also now as leaders and for our church back home. Our days had been full since hitting the ground in Sydney, meeting pastors and leaders, asking questions, listening, watching, observing, attending services and meetings, taking notes; when everything is new, exciting and there’s so much to see and take in you need time to reflect in order for it to be beneficial. We both felt we needed time to gather our thoughts, to breathe and to pray. Several people had recommended we visit the Blue Mountains which were within a few hours access from the North West suburbs of Sydney where we were based; so with a few recommendations, place-names, GPS/Sat-Nav, maps and a motel booking this is where we headed for 24 hours.

Australia’s a funny place, and Australians (whether local or localized) are funny folk. In both the ha-ha and peculiar way it would seem. Just as well too – who’d want to travel half-way around the world just to see more of the same ordinariness and feel at home? Well, we didn’t, but it would seem some do! Let me explain: Katoomba – a town which had been described to us by several city-folk in Sydney as “quaint… olde worldy… you’ll love it!” we found to be queer, mouldy, worldly, we wanted to leave it… as fast as we could.

welcome to Katoomba

It just reminded us of sad and dreary has-been towns in the North of England we’d pass through, quickly, en route to somewhere less depressing. Maybe in hindsight we did not look close enough, but I guess if you’re a fan of the Industrial Revolution and are pining for a dirty brick-house mill-town, where unemployment is topping 50%, exemplified by bottle brandishing bristly men sitting on benches along the roadside, and where wiping tables and sweeping floors in eateries are not considered as essential then you’ll  find Katoomba the quintessential embodiment of your dreams, a quaint and nostalgic reminder of that type of place, in a warped kind of way! We were not pining in this way as it turns out.

Quaint? Olde worldy?

And so, having journeyed for a few hours with high hopes, and arrived at Katoomba, we parked the car and looked for somewhere to have lunch. I was conscious of my masculine duty to hunt for a suitable establishment that would suit my feminine mate’s delicate tastes. Not necessarily overtly romantic – we’d leave that for dinner – but maybe quaint, hospitable, clean and serving decent soup.

Checking out the “sites”…

We walked past what resembled a redundant factory and then found the main street which had several establishments of a certain ilk, full of men who looked like they once been in the employ of aforementioned factory and were now semi-permanent fixtures in aforementioned establishments. We walked on and continued to look for somewhere without perhaps the radio blaring, without a laminated menu including photos of the food (hinting perhaps that pictures were necessary in order to identify the alimentation – although how many pictures of a burger and chips do you really need?) somewhere maybe with clean windows, chairs and floors, with welcoming decor, perhaps with a view – was that too much to ask?

Des res saloon…

Perhaps so. I kept on arriving first at a cafe door and peering in, only to find it did not look inviting, clean or quiet, and turning to Judith to say “Er… no, let’s walk on!” Eventually, Judith said “Look, I’m hungry. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a bit greasy-spoon. Let’s just eat at the next place.” So without further ado, we found ourselves walking in to the next cafe, Judith first, confidently slipping me a “This’ll be fine!” as we enter; we managed about 6 steps, roughly half-way into the place, when Judith looked around, saw the tables, smelt the air, noticed the staff, felt the stickiness of the furry flooring-material, and promptly blurted “No. Not here.” And so we left.

Shall we eat at the Savoy?

We did eventually find a place which was, apart from a dirty glass, an exceedingly unruly infant, the farts of an old man, and half of the 8 item-menu being unavailable, just about bearable. But it did not register on the quaint scale.

Why had people sent us here? We walked to the Visitor Centre after lunch in search of an answer. We were offered a bus drive to a cable-car, a guided tour costing a small fortune, and suitable insect-proof clothing and guide-books to purchase in case we were thinking of camping out in the woods. We headed back to the car.

“Let’s try and find the motel we booked for tonight” I said, in an attempt to sound optimistic.

It was meant to be on the edge of Katoomba. Most of Katoomba had appeared to be a bit edgy so far. The most positive comment we could make was that it resembled in certain places the kind of frontiersville of a Wild West, but one where the wild had sadly metamorphosed into woebegone. It seemed to lack the charming eccentricity of Garrison Keillor. Maybe if we’d stayed longer it would have grown on us, but it did not seem as endearing as “Lake Wobegon, the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.”

So, with slight trepidation, we set out in search of the Motel. The directions we had printed out from the website turned out to be not a little vague; they did not seem to match up with GPS coordinates or map markings, also road names seemed to have changed; perhaps new roads been built recently. We got a little lost. Rather fortuitously, it turned out, because we stumbled across some exceedingly beautiful scenery, and then some simply stunning vistas, and then we found Echo Point and now we realised exactly why people had sent us out here!

Wow and double wow!

Natural beauty, just the way God created it, has that ability to just take your breath away. The Blue Mountains live up to their name, and what a landscape, what a view! In driving up the way we came from Sydney we had evidently bypassed any scenic views. Then, the disappointment of Katoomba, sold to us as art deco but which turned out to be more fart wreck-o for us. Now, suddenly,  just around the corner we caught a glimpse of the real reason we ought to spend a day and a night here.

Judith & the Three Sisters... Faith, Hope & Love... I guess!

Moreover, just a few paces from the view at Echo Point we discovered Leura, a pretty little one-street town which, despite being perhaps a tad pastiche, did register on the quaint scale for us (we returned here for a romantic dinner at Silks brasserie!) So, without further ado we spent the rest of the day walking, talking, looking, observing, sitting, sipping (tea and beer), listening, watching the wildlife, taking an amazing sky-ride in a cable car across a ravine (with a friendly, personal tour-guide – Judith and I ended up being the only passengers!)

Thus we were able to find the space and environment to contemplate all that God was saying and doing in our lives; and the whole ‘Katoomba experience’ made me think how sometimes we are led into situations which seem disappointing or even depressing when just around the corner is the real deal, which, maybe we might miss if we gave up searching, gave up moving onwards.

Don’t give up! Keep searching, keep moving on!

Water falls at Leura, Blue Mountains

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…”

Tempus Fugit & My Moleskine®

It’s been a while and some of you and one of my daughters have pleaded with me to update my blog with some more jottings from my journal.

I actually have 47 entries in draft… excerpts from my sabbatical journeying which need editing and sewing together with words in order to make sense to you out there. Some of you have asked why I don’t just write straight into this blog; why do I insist on using pen and ink? To answer that, at least in part, I will refer you initially to my earlier blog entry also entitled Tempus Fugit which you’ll find here.

Truth is, I am rather old fashioned; I like pen and ink, pencil and paper, hand and manuscript. I love scribbling my scatty thoughts, doodling my deliberations, and what’s more I love my Moleskine.

Now for you ignorami out there a Moleskine is a little black note-book. I first started using them when I was a student in Paris in the 1980s. They weren’t called Moleskines then, or at least the ones I used were not. I used to buy mine from Gibert Jeune (still our favourite French papeterie [stationers] always worth a family visit – the five of us can happily while away a whole afternoon in Gibert Jeune near Place St Michel, Paris… OK we know we’re weird, but hey, at least we’re happy!)

I started journalling back in 1978 when I was just 13. I used a diary back then, the big Boot’s Scribbling Diary – another classic stationery objet trouvé – which I inherited a liking to from my grandmother who used them up until her death aged 97 in 1975. I say she “used them” whilst actually towards the end of her life at least she simply possessed these diaries out of habit really, keeping them by her bed; the only entries in the last few years being various family members’ birthdays.

They were a comfort to her nonetheless, and an enigma to a young boy – these large navy blue books kept near her bed. So when she graduated I ended up inheriting the remaining tomes, all virtually unused. I was still at primary school when she died and being very close to her emotionally (she lived with us) to begin with I kept these Scribbling Diaries (1970-75) on a bookshelf in my room as a quasi-shrine to her memory. Then one day I found myself getting one down from the shelf and actually scribbling on one of the pages; then making a to-do list the next day on a subsequent blank page, followed later by writing some thoughts on another. Before long I was using it most days to either record something that happened, note a reminder, work out some sums for Maths at school, sketch some ideas, etc. Soon I was taking it to school, using it as a jotter, and it generally became part of my life.

On reaching teenhood I decided to purchase a fresh new Boots Scribbling Diary of my own and this is how my journalling journey began. The following year I bought a different sized Boots Diary, a bit more up market, smaller (A5 size I think, as opposed to the A4 or foolscap Scribbling Diary version) but thicker and page-a-day which meant there was plenty more room to jot a lot when I had the urge.

I didn’t actually know it was called journalling then, I just enjoyed writing things down when I thought about them. It didn’t really matter that it was a diary (though sometimes the dates had a relevance) since my first jotted journallings were in my Gran’s diaries from previous years (so the days and dates did not match up) I just used the spaces as a simple means to distinguish one entry or thought from the next. When I bought my own diary for that particular year though I tried to follow the days and dates in order.

Sometimes the scribblings of one day required 3 or 4 pages, other times there were no scribblings for a few days. This meant that there was quite often a waste of paper and the diary was heavy and cumbersome to carry around. So when I discovered the moleskine back in the 80s as a student in Paris I immediately forsook purchasing diaries, which now seemed impractical and started using these little black books. This style of notebook had been around in Europe for a century or so and was popular with artists and authors such as Hemingway, Matisse and Van Gogh.

One of Van Gogh's moleskines looking a bit dog-eared

In my student days you could pick them relatively cheaply and loads of my compatriots at the Sorbonne used them. Back then there were several firms which made notebooks in this style. The common features were:

  • a hard waterproof vinyl cover (hence moleskine… I think!) which was normally black
  • an elastic strap-band which held the book closed
  • rounded edges
  • an envelope pocket at the inside back cover useful for storing bits in
  • a ribbon page-marker
  • blank, lined or squared paper (I tended to prefer squared because you could use it effectively and neatly any way up)

Years of journalling in a pile of Moleskines (collective term: hill)

Some of my original moleskine notebooks also had a snazzy decorative internal cover as seen in the picture of Van Gogh’s notebook above, but some were just plain cream coloured like the ones available today. During my time in Paris I would carry a moleskine around with me everywhere and go through one or two of these notebooks a month on average.

Trouble was, on returning to live in London, I couldn’t find a moleskine anywhere! I later discovered that they’d ceased production. It is only in recent years that an Italian company (calling itself Moleskine) with French connections has happily revived them. So for a while I confess that I transferred my allegiance to Filofax, and at other times I just used any old notebook I could find. Times were hard.

Now I can happily say that I am re-united with Moleskine in its latest incarnation. It’s a tad on the expensive side, but bearing in mind that the design is classic and is therefore not copyright there are a few cheaper manifestations coming on the market. I saw one called the Picadilly when I was in the USA recently, half the price of the Moleskine. When my current batch runs out I may well look to try out the Picadilly variety!

Returning to the gap in blog updates I could also perhaps say I’ve been too busy to give the time to do this. Truth is, since arriving back from sabbatical very often I haven’t really had the motivation most days because of a sad and sudden surprise which greeted us on our return back in Guernsey (more of this later). Thanks to the grace of God we’re virtually through the shock of this now but it has taken longer than we thought. Praise God for the fact he knew about all this, He works all things together for good, and He was active in preparing both Judith and me whilst we were away travelling.

Will (Papa) Le Tocq

However I need to say that additionally in recent weeks my dear old Dad, Wilfred Thomas Le Tocq, now aged 97, who resides with us, has needed a lot of extra care and nursing; indeed he was convinced he was going to die on Christmas eve! There’s been several close misses since too. Generally he’s a happy bunny though, just very weak physically; he’s never had to stay a night in hospital in all his life, so we’re endeavouring to keep up that tradition as the thought of ending his life there fills him with dread. He is such a blessing and is not frightened of dying at all. Just frightened of hospitals! But throughout these last days (and nights), although we’re needing to give him more attention and help, it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to be with him more, converse in Guernésiais, hear stories I’d forgotten or perhaps never even heard, cry and laugh together. Dad has good days and bad days, and like nursing Mum, which we did for four years before she died in 2007, the blessings of the burden far outweigh any pains; in fact the Spirit of the Lord beautifully and expertly mixes things together so that we come out of it emotionally and spiritually richer and closer to God.

Now back to that Ticallog

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.