Monday, 2 April 2018

Emerging into new life. What sort of prayer will you be?

Easter Day – Wesley Uniting Church 
1 April 2018

This week, even as we gave ourselves fully to Holy Week’s sorrow and the story of Jesus’ death, Ockert and I each had part of our minds on the resurrection. That is our experience of Lent as a church, isn’t it, we know how the story ‘ends’.

I have started reading a poem a day at breakfast, and one morning this week, with that part of my mind on resurrection particularly alert, this was the poem I read.

First Happenings. by Mary Oliver. [not reproduced online in full]

A morning-glory morning with its usual glory,
 petunias in the garden flashing their
tender signals of gratitude. ...
the sweet alyssum nod to
the roses who so very politely nod back.

... the fluttering petals, little
fires. Each one fresh and almost but not quite

Consider wearing such a satisfying body!
Consider being, with your entire self, such
a quiet prayer!

Consider being, with your entire self, such a quiet prayer! Like the flowers in the garden, we are coming to life, to new life, as people of the resurrection, people of this relationship with God through Christ, emerging from the story of Lent into the story of Easter.

What flower are you, as you unfold into your new life?
What kind of prayer will you be?

Like me, you may not be so well versed in all the finite properties of particular flowers – the often blooming, the long lasting, the rare, the winter, the autumn …

So let’s think simply. What colour flower will you be? Are you bold and bright? Are you pastel? Are you white?
What shape will you be? Round, oval, spiky; will you have a flurry of petals, or a few? Many buds to a stalk, or only one?
What size will you be? Low to the ground and petite; tall and singular; broad and wide on a bush or ground cover; high on a tree?
Will you have leaves? Grey, silver, some shad of green?

Can you see your flower? What sort of prayer does it seem to be?
What sort of prayer will your life be?

Mary Oliver’s poem evoked for me a picture of a garden of diverse prayers. Of life unfurling in response to the sun, life that is pure gratitude for the very gift of being alive. I saw Mary, unfurling back towards life, as she encountered the resurrected Christ.

Now, every flower knows death and dying; some experience drought or flood, frost or fire; weeds may strangle, pests and sickness can harm them. So we know that this garden is not a place of idealized perfection. Resurrection life is not idealized perfection.

We know, too, that our living is not without death of one kind or another. During this season of Lent, we have together explored the questions of death – Jesus’ death through the bible study, our own through the discussion evenings. We have named our reluctance to talk about death in many of our cultural contexts. We have considered the confronting situations in which people may choose to end this life we have on earth. Our Lenten discussion series brought us to life, as it took us into the shadows, shone light in the dark corners we try to ignore.

But there is an inherent mystery to this life, to resurrected life, the life beyond what we know here on earth. And many of our questions remain unanswered.

Do you know of Professor Brian Cox? He’s a scientist who presents tv shows, among other things. I came across a show he was doing recently, in which he was posing the question: what is life? He began in a village in the Philippines, with people celebrating their ancestors in a ritual or festival of the dead, to which I came late and missed exactly what it was. But with people carrying candles through a cemetery all around him, Cox posed the question of spirit, acknowledging the many different ways in which human cultures have given expression to our sense of the beyond, the something more, the mysterious spark of life that may not in fact be wholly contained in this mortal flesh.

Cox returned to science and to matter, identifying in the protons at the heart of all matter the spark for all life – though he really didn’t say where that spark came from. He talked about the magical quality of energy, which is not created, nor is it diminished, it simply is, and gets transferred from one thing to another. The magical quality of energy is that it is eternal. But where does energy itself come from?

As I watched I thought of God as that energy. That’s the story that shapes my understanding of things: God is the spark of life, the source of life, the beginning of it all. We talk often of God as eternal. What if we were to say God is the eternal, the energy in all life that rebounds from one thing to another, never diminishing, unable to be created because it already is.  ?

I love the details science can give us of the wonderful creation of which we are a part. But I also love the mystery, and am content to sit back in awe and let the mystery simply be.

Perhaps that’s the poet in me, I don’t know. Poets do tend to suggest, describe the mystery without trying to define it, use the figurative rather than the literal, or the literal to say more, to say something of the unspeakable mysteries.

What about our poem from Mary Oliver then? If we were to pose the question to that poem, what is life, what would that poem say? Life is a prayer. Life is a flower (and remember you are a flower today), a flower reaching for the sun in response to its call, unfurling and with all of its being, being a prayer.

So what if we, with all of our being, were prayers? What might that look like as the energy we receive from the Eternal rebounding as energy from us?

If prayer is communion with God, and as living prayers we are therefore in communion with God, then our living is profoundly shaped by that communion with God. What does that look like? Well what was Jesus’ life like – for he lived in deep communion with God? Our lives would be peace-making, kind, compassionate, just, fiercely loyal to God’s way of love, pouring ourselves out for the sake of each other – are you as excited as I am by the idea of life lived like that? It is enticing; it is, itself, a life giving way of life, is it not? Because you’ve seen what hope compassion brings, how love heals: we have experienced this positive energy rebounding, transferring from one to another, never diminished, always sparking life …

And what if we, together, were a garden of flowers, a garden of prayers – what might the world receive from us then?

Do you have a garden? Do you go into your garden for peace, joy, sometimes to work hard in order to nourish life?

Do you go to the Botanic gardens to walk, to breathe, to learn, to delight in the beauty you find there?

What does our life together, the church as a prayer garden look like?

Simple and quiet, calm and sure of itself. We live the resurrection, living in the confidence of God’s ‘yes’, God’s love. We trust in life beyond, participate in God’s kingdom here already; we are counter-cultural, resisting self-promotion, trusting in God, nurturing life.

Busy and diverse, each flower feeding and fed by the others. Each one unique, not quite replicable, we nod to each other with respect, making space for each other to flourish. Our prayers are active, we speak up for the dignity of others, give of ourselves to comfort, encourage, support one another.

Pointing towards the sun, drinking in the rain, sinking roots deep into the earth. We flash our tender signals of gratitude. We gather to worship God, bearing witness to God’s presence; we pray, we study, we discuss our ideas about God and listen for the Spirit.

Realistic and honest in our embrace of death as part of the cycle of life. We drop our seeds, our petals, our leaves, parts of ourselves given in order to grow new life. And our rituals guide us, our honesty and courage help us to grieve and to heal.

The psalms sing of such a way of being, of life lived in communion with God. As we heard from Ps 118 today, the psalmist sings, I have life, and with that life I will tell the story of God, the source of my life. I will be a prayer.

In the Gospel narrative, in the beloved disciple’s uncomprehending, faithful belief, and in Mary’s sigh of relief and return to life, we see two more whose actions say I have life, and with that life I will be a prayer to God.

God’s resurrection of Jesus
is a yes to the life
he lived, the love he gave,
the sacrifice he made –
God’s own self-giving
to enter humanity
to shed God’s own blood
to bring to life again
all that has been given life
by Divine self-giving:
God the Eternal,
the energy pulsing through

The whole Jesus event –
the life, death, resurrection
of Jesus is one more
in a continual series of yes
responses to the life God
creates, the yes we choose to hear
and live into.

So listen, and hear, today as we
celebrate the resurrection of Christ,
which is the Divine yes to life,
God’s yes – and turn like Mary,
turn like a flower towards the sun,
 turn towards the source of life
and feel your heart burst, your
breath quicken; feel yourself
come back to life and let’s join together
to grow a garden of diverse,
prayers to God with our living.


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Integrity: it needs to go further than the cricket pitch

This week in Australia the media has been flooded with  disappointment in the Australian Cricket team, and especially its leaders. Tampering with the ball, along with some questionable sportsmanship earlier in the series from various players - where is their integrity, we want to know? Where is their respect for the spirit of the game?

This weekend the media has been remarkably absent from the raising of voices that happened in Palm Sunday rallies across the country. The Australian people calling for greater integrity from our nation's leaders on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

This week, I am left wondering. Why is it that we (and by we, I mean the media, the ones who tell our story) are quick to express our disappointment in our sports people, yet seem unwilling to call the politicians to account? Do we expect more of our sports stars, our cricketers especially with its hallowed 'spirit of the game', than we do of our political leaders? Have we come to expect nothing less of our Prime Minister than to act without human integrity?

I wonder how the politicians are feeling? Do they want to be remembered for cowardice and cruelty? Surely one would want to be remembered for courage and conviction, for saving lives and protecting the vulnerable?

I wonder how the media folk feel? Do they want to be remembered for peddling fear, or for telling stories that move their audience to greater compassion? Surely one would want to be remembered for gathering the community together to work for justice on a larger scale than on the cricket pitch?

I wonder how we feel? Do we not expect more of ourselves? Are we really content to feed ourselves on the media's diet of building heroes and pulling them down, of fuelling fear ...

In a week in which we (we, the Christian community) remember the courage and conviction of Jesus, who would not give in to fear, who would not turn his back on God's way of love and peace, we must hear in this story a call and a challenge to do more, to be more, to expect more. We must expect as much integrity from our Prime Minister as we do from our cricket captain. We must expect more integrity from those who tell our stories. We must expect more from ourselves.

I am so grateful for the many from our Christian community who joined with those in the wider community who have lifted their voices to give expression to these expectations in those rallies across the country. Thank you.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Musing on God's covenants

This week at Wesley I reflected on portions of Jeremiah and the Gospel according to John. 

We sang a refrain, words and music by Robin Mann (in the All Together series, number 337) . 

Sing : the grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of God lasts forever 

I will write a new covenant on their hearts, God says through Jeremiah. Even when God’s people have let their commitment to the covenant wither like grass, fade like flowers – God will promise again and again, God will keep God’s promises: evergreen, God’s word endures.
Listen to the poetry in the verses that follow what we’ve heard today:
Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar –
The Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
From my presence, says the Lord,
Then also the offspring of Israel would cease
To be a nation before me forever.

If the fixed order were ever to cease, only then will you stop being my people.
As long as creation lasts, so does God’s promise.

Christians have chosen to see in Jesus a fulfilling of what prophets such as Jeremiah speak in such proclamations of covenants to be made, perhaps especially this one which is spoken of as a ‘new’ covenant, the only time the prophets speak of a ‘new’ covenant.
But, prophecy in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament is not fortune telling or future sight. It is primarily a naming of what is and the likely consequences of the peoples’ actions. It is a speaking of God’s promises, a calling back to God’s way, and it is often a proclamation of hope in the midst of great suffering.
It is not wrong to see Jesus as the instrument of the new covenant Jeremiah proclaims. Generally, it is an act of faithful interpretation: interpretation of experience in light of scripture, and interpretation of scripture in light of experience. Which is why there are references to Hebrew scriptures throughout the Gospels: Jesus and the tellers of his story are interpreting who he is and what God does through his life, death, and resurrection, as part of the ongoing story that is told in their scriptures and tradition. We continue to do that when we engage with our sacred writings and traditions, and this keeps them vital and alive.
We do, however, do a disservice to Jeremiah, the book, the prophet, the tradition, and to God and ourselves, not to mention the continuing Jewish communities of faith, when we claim that Jesus is the only interpretation of such prophetic texts.
For, whether or not the new covenant Jesus makes is the one promised by God through jeremiah, Jeremiah speaks of God’s ongoing action of renewal and reconciliation. The people of Israel are anticipating new things from God because they have learnt from the stories of their ancestors that they can expect God to renew promises, keep promises, make new promises, even when they have broken them, and should really suffer the consequences.
To pick up from that beautiful poetry in Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord:
If the heavens above can be measured,
And the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
Then I will reject all the offspring of Israel
Because of all they have done.

even as we have heard that God will forgive, God reminds the people that the covenant makes demands of God and the people if the covenant is broken. It is only by God’s grace that God withdraws from the rejection demanded by the betrayal of unfaithful people.
God’s grace is infinite – can the heavens really be measured? They are vast beyond our comprehension. Can the foundations of the earth be explored completely? Well, I suppose we’re getting close, but no, not really. So because of all they have done, God’s people ought to be rejected by God, but God’s faithfulness is not as fickle as ours. It is as unfathomable as the heavens and the earth, which we understand only in part.
Grass withers and flowers fade, but God’s word endures.

Sing: the grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of God lasts forever 

As followers of Jesus, we are people living in covenant relationship that is made through Jesus, as we remember and celebrate in baptisms and the eucharist. In the portion of John we heard today, we hear God’s promise – Where I am, there is God. Jesus is incarnate in humanity, God is incarnate in humanity. God’s promise not only endures, but adapts in relentless pursuit of reconciliation. Covenant is relationship, and that is what God wants, loving, healing, relationship.
And lest we become complacent with all this talk of God keeping and making covenants, as if there is no cost to the keeping of a covenant for God or for us, let us listen to the promise Jesus makes again. This is one of my prayer-poems, with copies at the door.

Jesus’ promise

When I am lifted up
I will lift you up
I will bring you with me
where I am going.

Hung out to die:
come with me;
laid out to rest:
come with me;
into the arms of death:
come with me,
stay with me.

When I am lifted up
I will lift you up;
I will bring you with me
where I am going.

Whatever the cost – and it is great – in Jesus, God says to people of all nations, I will be your God. As it endures, God’s promise also extends.

Notice it is Andrew and Philip to whom the Greeks come. Andrew and Philip are, in John’s gospel narrative, the first Jesus calls to be his disciples. Now, they receive the approach of the first in this narrative of the gentiles seeking to be Jesus’ disciples. Discipleship is passed on, the circle expands and includes more and more into God’s covenant relationship. We participate in that relationship through our relationships with each other.
What about the response to the request, we want to see Jesus – which in the cultural context of teachers and disciples is a request to become disciples.  Jesus’ response to the Greek enquirers, is that one comes to Jesus, one becomes a disciple, through his death. This covenant is made with Jesus’ blood: his death and resurrection are the means by which God pursues reconciliation this time.
Further, it is also through our own ‘death’ that we enter this covenant relationship. For as we have heard earlier in Lent, we hear again today, you must lose your life in order to gain it. Life in this covenant relationship is different to life according to the ways of the world, and we have to let our ‘worldly’ life go if we are to embrace life reconciled to the ways of God’s love and wisdom. Such a way of life is characterised by the mutuality of God, Three in One, and God with believers, believers with others. John sees Jesus’ death and resurrection as congruous with his life, and the mutuality of Jesus with God is highlighted through John’s portrait of Jesus, a mutuality that characterises covenant relationship with God.
Mutuality seeks to respect, affirm, nurture, and encourage the full dignity of each person in the relationship. Here at Canberra Central, I have been learning how you have been reshaping pastoral care from the sole responsibility of elders to the shared reciprocity of all members of this parish in a way that embraces this respect and encouragement of the full dignity and wellbeing of each other. This is covenant relationship. This is relationships of promise: I promise you loving kindness in pursuit of your wellbeing, and I accept your loving kindness in pursuit of my wellbeing.
We may not spill blood in the making our covenant relationships with one another, but it will cost us something. We will have to give up the ways of the world, so very hard to resist, ways that pressure us to seek our own wellbeing first. But although we are sold ways to find success, riches, sex, a particular kind of family or beauty or life, the ways of the world will not lead us to the wellbeing we will find in covenant relationship with God. It will hurt, it will cost us much, but as with the wisdom of God which we recently discovered is foolish in the eyes of the world, wait for the paradox: though it will cost you much, it will give you more than even the world can promise you.
Jesus will lift us up with him on the cross – but then Jesus will lift us up with him into resurrected life. And as we heard from Thorvold Lorenzen this week, we know resurrected life by walking resurrected life, by living into covenant relationship with God who relentlessly seeks reconciliation with creation. Through living relationships of reconciliation, we know the reconciliation of ourselves with God, the promise God makes again and again.
So let the grass wither, let the flowers fade, and see through it all the relentless, evergreen love of God, whose word, promise, covenant, endures to keep us in relationship with God, for the sake of our life.

Sing: the grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of God lasts forever 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

On death as choice

In our parish during Lent, we are holding four discussion evenings on themes of death, resurrection, life after / beyond death. Topics we rarely engage in seriously, for they are big, and our ideas tap into deeply held beliefs, and it makes us vulnerable to expose them and bring them into conflict (however friendly and respectful) with the different ideas of others.

This week, it was my turn to facilitate the discussion. A few of our congregation couldn't be there, and have asked for notes. Friends further afield are also interested. So here is roughly what I said.

Lent discussion: choosing life rather than death. Surviving depression and suicide
Claim this as a safe space, in which we will only share as we feel comfortable, will listen attentively, respect each other, and not tell anyone else’s story without permission.

Last week, Ockert said that we love facts, but the one fact that is more certain than all is the one we do not talk about: we will die. That is a fact.

This evening, we’re going to consider whether, or when, death can be a choice. Why don’t we start with the ideas and questions we are each bringing to the room. Take five minutes to discuss on your tables – can death be a choice?

my ideas

– protecting another

– the choice may be to accept death

– euthanasia – choosing death, or how to die?

– suicide – is choosing death

A personal story might speak truly to these issues and questions. As Ockert and I talked about this series, it occurred to me that such a story might add something helpful to our series. The only story I can tell is my own, and it’s suicide I’m going to talk about, since I know more about it than euthanasia from my experience.

I’ll use poetry a bit to tell this story, because poetry can speak about mysterious and profound experiences in a way that ordinary language sometimes cannot.

This is my story. I am going to tell it openly and honestly, as I have in public settings such as my blog, and my poetry.

You are welcome to ask me anything about my experience. I will be honest about what I can and cannot say, share, answer. Is that ok?

I don’t tell this story to evoke your pity. I am well, I am resilient, I am ok. Yes? I tell this story because the health of our communities depends on those of us who can talk about our experiences of depression and suicide doing just that. We will reduce stigma, and promote greater understanding, and in that way help nurture greater health for those who live these experiences.

I descended into an experience of major depression after high school, five years of isolating back injuries, stress and pressure of year 12, etc. Realised when I was studying for first year psychology exams at uni that the symptoms of major depression were visible in myself.

At first, I kind of pulled myself out of the funk I was in, acknowledged it, and began to talk with friends and family at bit about it.

It got worse.

Then it got really bad, and I started turning into the driveway, switching off the car’s ignition, and sitting there a moment or two a little surprised that I was sitting there, because I had this recurring thought about not turning a particular corner on the way home, and instead driving straight into the tree on the corner.

Poem: 'On not hitting a tree' 

After “Five Thousand Acre Paddock”, Philip Hodgins 1.
 There was only one
tree on the corner and I
drove straight past it.
 Flowers mark the tree
where the car ended
up. I think to myself
that could have been me
 only I would have done it

The final straw of a less than desired essay grade tipped the whole cart over and I sat in the kitchen of the house where I boarded with an older friend from church, alone, contemplating which way I would choose to end my life.

Poem – ‘sinking’ 

I sank to my chair
I stared at the telephone
the bottle of wine
the car keys

I took up the phone
I put it down
I dialled no number

I took it up
I put it down
again and again

wanting to ask
made it no easier to call

I took up the bottle
put it to my lips
I swallowed no wine

I took it up
I put it down
again and again

wanting to forget
made it no easier to drown

I took up my keys
drove holes in the table
I went nowhere

I took them up
I put them down
again and again

wanting to crash
made it no easier to burn

away from the car keys
the bottle of wine
the telephone
I sank into my bed

pause for conversation 

Living had become too painful. For me, depression is a physical ache, with enourmous fatigue, emotional vacuum or overload, and often nausea or a general feeling of being unwell. My thinking is foggy, my appetite is all over the place, and I don’t get any enjoyment from anything. It affects my whole being, so that I hurt constantly, and in many different ways.

Living had become so painful that the only way I could see to stop the pain was to stop living.

That evening when I realised my housemate would be home soon, I finally shook whatever paralysis had come over me, and crawled into bed, where I cried myself to sleep, in my despair at my inability to actually end my life.

I woke the next morning with the thought that I seemed to have chosen to live, so how was I going to manage ? I made decisions to talk to the GP, tell my mum what was happening … slowly, ever so gradually, I began to climb out of that very deep dark hole.

Before we consider the choice to live, I want to pause with the choice to die, and consider where in the Bible, characters have chosen or longed for death. 

Samuel (1 Sem 31:4) and Ahithophel (2 Sam 17:23) seem to choose death out of some sort of sense of honour in war; Samuel to avoid the dishonour of being killed by his enemy, falls on his sword, and Ahitophel after the dishonour of David's escape, hangs himself. Interestingly, Ahithophel is buried in the tomb of his father, unlike the long Christian practice of unmarked graves and no proper funeral for those who died by suicide. 

Judas is the only suicide in the New Testament, regret a strong element to his choice, and perhaps also a sense of honour? Interestingly, there are two different accounts, one in which he went away and hanged himself (Matt 27:5), and the other in which he gutted himself in a field then named 'field of blood' (Acts 1:18). 

Job longs for death, as does Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), Tobit (3:6), and Jonah (4:8), but all of them leave the decision for whether they live or die in the hands of God. 

For the writer of Ecclesiastes, the suffering of the world, full of evil, is so great to bear, that it would be better for those who live and have experienced it to have never been born, rather than live this awful life. 

Paul has mixed feelings about death, almost longing for it because it will bring him closer to Christ (Philemon 1:23). 

What I didn't find, and I haven't done a comprehensive study, is any condemnation of those who wish for or even choose, death. It seems a very human response to the immense suffering we experience. 

[We did talk about Jesus and whether he chooses death, or life; a life and a way of life that seemed to be leading him towards execution. We wondered, though, whether his choice was for life, life that transcends this earthly life] 

One of the ways I thought about it later, visualising the experience, was that at the bottom of that hole, I had sat with my hand on a trap door escape, thinking I was alone. But I realised I was not alone, for there was one I had not shut out – God. I occasionally forget God is here, in some part of my conscious, distracted knowing; but in my deepest core being and knowing, God is, always, and I don’t appear to be able, or want, to let that go.

And for me, as I reflected on my decision to live, that seems to be why and how I chose life rather than death that night in my friend’s kitchen. Because I would not choose to let go of God, to be where God is not.

And here, death means more than simply the end of this earthly way of being. For me, life is synonymous with God, and death synonymous with turning away from God. I don’t think God abandons those who take their own life, for whatever reason. I do think that for me, the choice to pull on that escape hatch felt like a choice to leave God, who was there in the darkness with me. Examining my choice to live helped me to turn back towards the light that was there all along. And that gave me enough hope to take my hand off the trap door, and begin to find a way to embrace life more fully again.

I can continue to choose life, continue to experience wellness even in the midst of living with depression, even when it gets very dark indeed, which I’m afraid it has once or twice since then.


A long way from Venice, Antonio & Shylock, an attacker seeks his prey

With stealth, Darkness approaches
out of the radiant day.
He is your foe in a tightrope war,
seeking another fray.
You’ve beaten him before,
you know how to win,
but this war is never over,
he will reappear again.
You cannot jump, you cannot fall,
into the unbounded chasm below,
for that way is to lose.

You have no choice, you must fight,
if you want your chance at life,
and you know what you must do.
From the shadows he will strike,
anticipate his move;
You must prepare your bosome for his knife.

When we make a choice to die, it is never in a vacuum

Blue, Koala? [Listen here] [Buy the book here]

Something that has been important for me is that even though I have family and friends close enough to hold light when I cannot, and they are integral to my living, and living well, I do not make the choice to live for them. What a burden that would be for them and for me. I chose, and continue to choose, life – for the sake of life, and for myself. These days it is less a choice between life and death, and more a choosing to live well, to embrace life’s fullness and richness, and to nurture wellbeing for me and the communities in which I dwell.

I ran out of time to read this final poem, but people had it on their hand outs. 

tenuous wholeness

beneath a sepia sky
of rainclouds reflecting
streetlights my cheeks are wet,
not by rain,but by the profound
discovery of wholeness, 
however tenuous, 
painted against a black 

scars an etching of regret, 
edges faded and worn, 
colour stretched and yet –
piercing through to the heart
eyes that shine despite it all
for a precious, 
tenuous moment

All poems included here are (c) Sarah Agnew, and are included in On Wisdom's Wings (Ginninderra Press, 2013), available for purchase from me for $25.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Midweek Musing: a new presbytery

Along with a new city, new congregation, new state/territory, I also have a new presbytery to get to know. Saturday was the first time I gathered with the meeting, and I noticed a few things.

The meeting is very anglo in its ethnicity, only a couple of people in the room with different coloured skin. While many of our congregations are quite diverse in our ethnicity, mine included, the representation in the regional meeting is not. I wonder why that is? Is the multicultural nature of the congregations indicative of a more transient element of the population, not here long enough to become the known and trusted members to take on such roles and responsibilities? Are our meetings and structures quite western, and therefore alienating to people from different cultures? I wonder.

The mood was positive, light, full of humour. People were happy to be there, happy to see each other, happy to share a joke with each other. In their welcome of me, it was clear that people had paid attention to the communication about which new ministers were moving to the presbytery, what our gifts are, where we've come from. One of my fellow ministers in the presbytery expressed the hope that the wider presbytery would be able to share in the gifts I, and other of our new colleagues, bring here. While the commitment to the work of the congregations is clear, the vision is wider, to the whole church.

Our meeting facilitators were positive, and clearly committed to enabling the work of the churches as the embodiment of the body of Christ in our local settings. There is a proactive element to their work, and openness to their communication, a humility in their leadership and willingness to laugh, even at themselves.

I was greeted by one of my new presbytery colleagues with a hug – we've met once before, and have many mutual friends, but I was delightfully surprised by this sisterly welcome.

As I said goodbye, another fellow minister said, I'll see you at the ethics and ministers' gathering in a couple of weeks. It's fun, we have a great time.

Of course nothing is perfect, and I'm sure the imperfections will become visible soon enough, but overall, I think I am going to like it here in the Canberra Region Presbytery.