Building closed. Church open.

May, 30 2020 Alan Storey: Spirit-filled Pentecost
[Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23; John 7:37-39]

Vandana Shiva: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest

 

Hi Friends,

By now you would have heard that President Ramaphosa announced that places of worship may reopen with a limit of 50 people or less when the country moves into Level 3 on 1st June 2020.

I know that we have all missed gathering together during the Covid-19 Lockdown. It will certainly be a wonderful celebration when we do gather together under one roof. I look forward to that day as much as you do, but at CMM we will not be doing so just yet.

At this time, the most Christ-like (life-giving) thing we can do as CMM, is to continue not to gather in person.

There is still much we do not know about Covid-19, but what we do know is that increased gatherings of people, increase the potential for the virus to spread. Therefore, if meeting as a congregation endangers people’s lives, we will not meet. “There is life and death before you, choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

We are very fortunate not to be faced with the ethical conundrum that many sectors are faced with at the moment. For many the continued Lockdown means economic collapse and family hunger and therefore for them choosing life involves a painfully difficult decision. They are stalked by both disease and hunger. Whatever they decide carries high risk. Therefore, all the more reason why those sectors with less painful choices, make the least risky decisions. Our continued aim is surely to spare the health services as much as we can.

It is worth repeating that we are not deciding whether to open the Church or not. The Church, as a community, was never closed under Lockdown and therefore does not require opening. We are deciding about opening a building and as many have said, we do not need a building to pray or praise.

The question, “is now the time we are reopening CMM?” sounds very much like the question that the disciples asked Jesus in last week’s scripture reading (Acts 1:9). Jesus told them that there were more important things to focus on than dates and times. Instead he invited them to be witnesses to his life-giving ways wherever they were. Similarly, we are invited to witness to justice, mercy and humility wherever we are. When we do this, we are an open church. When we don’t do this, even if the doors of our building are open, we are a closed church.

An open church opens others to life. A small example of this may include CMM’s decision this past week to assist all the traders outside our office block in Church Street to re-open. We will be assisting them with “seed finance” as well as helping them meet the Level 3 regulations. In this regard, let me tell you about Max. Over the years I have watched Max grow his fruit selling business. He began with a few bananas and apples a couple of years ago. As his business has grown, he arrives to set up his stall every morning at around 05h30 and packs up after dark each evening. He is the inspirational epitome of hard work. Just before Lockdown his fruit stall was a beautiful rainbow of nourishing colours shading under two umbrellas. Sadly, fruit doesn’t last too long. Max lost around R6000 of stock due to the Lockdown. Next week we help Max open again. Wherever we are, may we look for opportunities to help people like Max to open again. An open Church opens others to life.

An open Church opens us to the dignity of all. I hope that our very brief experience of not being able to gather together will sensitise us to the pain of those who have seldom experienced the Church as open. To this day LGBQTI people are not fully accepted in many churches. The building is open, but the community is closed, resulting in fearful and closeted Lockdown for years if not forever. An open Church is a radically welcoming community that celebrates the sacred worth of everyone. An open Church opens us to the dignity of all.

Let us reflect more on what it means to be a church that is open. I hope that by using the lens of Pentecost, we can continue this conversation on Sunday at 11h11 during our CMM Chat via zoom. If you would like to be part of this, please email: welcome@cmm.org.za for the link.

I include the links of two statements regarding the President’s announcement about public worship:
Jesuit Institute
Rev. Dr. Peter Storey

Grace,
Alan

 

 

I am the way, not the route

May, 10 2020 Alan Storey: I am the way, not the route [Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14]

Hi everyone,

It was lovely to see so many of your faces on Thursday evening during our Zoom test / connect. It felt Easter-ish: Facial recognition resurrects relationships! To hear familiar voices and laughter is life-giving.

A group call with so many people can be quite chaotic. But as the angels say: “Be not afraid” for there is beauty in the chaos, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory. As we keep open to learning how to be with each other in this new way, let’s double up on patience, kindness and a sense of humour. When in doubt, breathe and smile. We are not all the same. What energises one, drains the next. As we are attentive to our different experiences, may we feel free to express our learnings, ideas and suggestions so that we all take responsibility for the space we share. The feedback, since Thursday has already been helpful. Thank you.

It would be rather entertaining (and concerning) were someone to get out of a swimming pool and walk on dry ground while continuing to wave breaststroke arms. In other words, a new medium invites a new way. Similarly, it is not possible nor wise to try and replicate the actual with the virtual. This means there are going to be some things we simply miss as they are irreplaceable because they are bound within a particular medium.

Learning what we miss can also be a gift. I have realised over the last few weeks that preaching is a particular medium that cannot (certainly not for me) be replicated by a podcast. I was always taught that true preaching is relational, but I have only now come to see that to be true. Missing the congregation has revealed this to me. If I am honest, podcasts feel kind of dead. (Please stop reading and take a moment to pray for the resurrection of dead podcasts … and a particular struggling podcaster.)

I have also missed liturgy, prayer, readings and song in their own right, but also in the way in which they support and stretch the sermon. Sunday services are more than the sum of their parts. A sermon is a thread, while Sunday services are a tapestry. I miss this greater sense of wholeness. The different voices from different perspectives addressing life as we know it from the uniqueness of our hearts, hands and voices.

In the light of all of this we are going to try something new this Sunday. At 11:11 we will have a conversation (on Zoom). The springboard for our conversation will be the Sunday readings and reflection. Please email Adrienne at welcome@cmm.org.za for the Zoom link if you would like to be part of this. We will stick to 50 minutes max (like therapy – except it will not be therapy!). In our quest to be a questioning community, this Sunday we will simply ask the question: “What questions arise for us from the readings and reflection?” Instead of brainstorming answers, we will brainstorm questions.

One of the concerns about all this online stuff is how exclusive and excluding it can be. It is dependent on having access to data and internet access as well as the technology in the first place. We know therefore that many at CMM are excluded from this form of gathering. This is a concern. I am not exactly sure what the answer is but would like us to be mindful of it. If you can help bridge the gap with those who you know from CMM who are not online, please do. Any suggestions?

On Thursday I shared a bit about the present state of the sanctuary (stripped bare) and the new opportunities it presents for us, especially in relation to a different form of seating that will allow greater flexibility for the use of the sanctuary and to make it more functional in the service of the community. This discussion is important not only regarding the historical nature of the building, but because it raises questions about who we are, and who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

Yet the challenge is, this window of opportunity coincides with restricted interaction and limited channels of communication. We would like as many people as possible to be part of these conversations. I therefore appeal to you, if you have thoughts and questions about this, please contact me. We want to make this journey together.

I am mindful that as a community we moved straight from housing refugees for 5 months to Covid-19 lockdown. In other words, from one challenge to another even greater challenge without time to process the first. This is not healthy. We have much to learn from the last 6-7 months as a community. We need to be deliberate about coming back to it when we are able to do so.

Lastly, a big thank you to those who continue to generously support the ministries of CMM as well as Stepping Stones Children’s Centre.

Grace,
Alan

 

What gardening has taught me…

My gardening and spiritual journeys are closely intertwined.

Starting out as a student of Horticulture at the then Natal Technikon, my training and approach to a garden was very traditional and Eurocentric. You made compost in a certain way, you propagated plants in a certain way and the approach to laying out a garden was seasonal, in that flower beds were planted out with annual colour in Spring and Autumn.

My approach to Church was similar in many ways. I made an effort to attend Church most Sundays and felt guilty if I did not. The reading of my Bible was done just before I went to bed and early Morning Prayer ensured that I faced the day armed with the knowledge that God was on my side.

My gardening and my spiritual lives were rule-based and rigid. I ignored and hid my own truths and instincts.

During my military training in the late 80’s, I read a book by the conservationist Ian Player. His writing opened my eyes to the beauty and importance of our indigenous plant material as well as the value of Zulu culture. Up and until that point the garden was a place within a boundary wall that was mine to own, to control and to show off, while the bush or veld was on the outside of that boundary fence.

I then became evangelical about our indigenous plant material, to the point that everything local was good and that all exotic plant material needed to be removed and replaced with indigenous trees and shrubs. At the same time I stopped going to Church as I started to struggle with my own personal truths. On a spiritual level I felt as if I was moving away from God, who in my head remained very much part of the physical church structure. 

It was a period of starting to come to terms with my truths, both as a gardener on the Southern tip of Africa, as well as who I was as a man. I also learned that once you start embracing your truths, new doors open and new challenges are sent your way.

I then discovered the joy of food gardening, and that the organic approach of not using any synthetically produced chemicals or fertilisers, was the right way to garden.

When you start to grow food, you start to share it. You share seeds and young plants and learn about different and alternate ways of doing things. Working with other gardeners from different faiths, cultures and parts of the world, helped me to start seeing that they were no different from me. This also meant that I visited Mosques, Shuls and Hindu shrines (who have the best gardens); and I recognised the incredible simplicity and beauty of the gatherings of the Zion Church worshippers, on a beach in Durban or in the open veld around Johannesburg.

It taught me the importance and divinity of diversity, both in the garden and in my spiritual life.

Gardening for me now is less about the outcome or show, but rather about the act of actually gardening and sometimes just observing the simple truths that Mother Nature presents to me. The wildness has leapt over the boundary fence and invaded my garden and the way I garden.

So too with my spiritual life and my journey with God. I am more at ease with my own individuality and the individuality of others and the truths that they represent.

Gardening taught me that.

Sincerely,
Athol