Australia trip diary
This is the diary I kept while in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland recently.
Friday 15 Feb
I'm typing this in faith that I will get internet access eventually even if it’s playing silly beggars at the moment. Just back from a Dinner with a capital D to start off Summer Spirit, the weekend festival of spirituality. The keynote speaker couldn’t come so it was a replacement. And perhaps one who had been chosen to make us really wish the number one choice had been available.
If you like an embittered catholic, dissatisfied with his own church and determined that nobody else could possibly find spiritual satisfaction in anything so outdated as ‘church’ of any description; someone who believes in ‘the story of the universe’ – less a story than a collection of half-baked scientific facts about the Big Bang; who believes explicitly in Mother Earth and the indigenous people’s spirituality completely outclassing any Judeo-Christian creed, whose services involve doing the bees’ Waggle Dance, who agrees with a writer who claims that in order to rediscover the story of the universe we need to ‘put the Bible on the shelf for 20 years’, who has so little interest in any sense of rational truth that he mentions nothing of the passionate Christian argument of ecology and stewardship of the planet from many strands of church over recent years, who prays to ‘the ancestors’, well, you would have been very content.
However the meal was excellent, John took David Tacey and me to the beach and to King’s Park to see Perth by night on the way home, so I have stood in the Indian Ocean and seen a 750 year old boab tree transported 3200km from the north to make way for a highway, and it’s bedtime, so all good in the end.
It’s 4.15 and thanks to the joys of jetlag I’ve been awake 13 hours already today. We started at 6.45 driving out to breakfast at the Warehouse Cafe – the cafe’s first event since opening. There was a group of 15 Messy Church leaders gathered for breakfast and we had a mini Messy meet-up. The main issues seem to be around relating to the Sunday congregation, the name, sacraments, publicity – nothing different from the UK really. The conference is drawing to its end, then cheese and wine, a meal at Marie’s and then home. My part in the proceedings has been two workshops with about 40-50 in each, one on MC and one on Messy Discipleship. Both seemed to go down well. Get Messy! has been received with great interest – it's great that MediaCom are distributing it here. David Tacey spoke very well, having been awake himself at 4am rewriting his talk completely to refute what was said in the after-dinner speech last night (thank goodness). The gist of his very complicated and rich talk is that we need to have a vital spirituality within our religion. And most fun of all, I have had a cuddle with a joey! Someone had brought this little orphaned beast to the event in a pouch as she’s hand rearing it, and it is just learning how to hop – so endearing. I think a kangaroo would look very fine on the vicarage lawn... wonder how many orphaned roos we have in the UK for adoption?
Monday 18 Feb
Yesterday seemed to go well – a relatively busy morning, leading an all-age service at All Saints Uniting Church in Floreat – something I was quite nervous about as you never know what a congregation is used to and how they’ll react to anything out of the ordinary – but the home team were wonderful, produced some great prayer stations and artwork, and the minister and Lee-Anne performed the sketch for confession brilliantly. The congregation were very generous and cooperative. The children filled in the map on the floor with some remarkably wise drawings and words – why am I surprised? One lad apparently spent time drawing, then sat up and listened to me, then drew again all through the ‘talk’.
After the service I led a short talk on all-age worship – a bit of a challenge when you’ve just done it in the flesh and run the risk of practice not living up to theory. Brenton changed my Aaron Ralston metaphor very insightfully and gave it another meaning: the conventions of the church being the boulder that holds families back from life, and families cutting themselves off to avoid atrophy and death by association: why would we try to sew them back onto a dead limb? Challenging stuff.
Our old friend Greg Ross came and picked me and Brenton up and we had a chat-filled drive back to Bunbury (Bunbury!) to his and Vicki’s home, with their adult children, Nicola and Jared.
Today has been a delightful day off. Greg drove Brenton, Alison and me round the tourist delights of Geographe Bay, including wine at 9.30am, coffee and cheese at 10.30, lunch overlooking the turquoise / azure/ blown glass / jewelled / enamelled – all the clichés are true) bay at 12.30, chocolate tasting (goodness knows when – I’d lost the plot by then), glassblowing and home. Alison pointed out local botanic specimens: grass trees were fun, but we didn’t see any snottygobblers. I kid you not. (Apparently the leaves are long, thin, lime green and shiny. I say no more.)
I should have gone to cheer on the male voice choir tonight but am having a quiet evening in instead, wimp that I am.
Tuesday 19 Feb
A day’s Fiesta in Bunbury at St Elizabeth’s Anglican Church with a mix of Anglican and UC folk, and the team from Bunbury UC leading crafts and celebration. All the usual suspects when it came to questions and worries, so it really helped to have Aussie Messy Church practitioners there as well as my own experience to draw on. A brief rest then off to Busselton for an evening with Busselton MC team and Margaret River folk who are doing something of their own called Dig@tingle for all ages and are pondering Messy Church as an alternative. Churches here have just the same concerns... elderly congregations, money, love of the inherited way of doing things.... they just don’t have the hassle and cost of ancient buildings on top of all that!
Weds 20 Feb
Leisurely breakfast in the Dome cafe where Nicola works and a short walk along the Bunbury seafront (good mix of industry and residential – not too twinky and not too rough and ready – just a very ‘real’ place). A huge brown butterfly, a cormorant fishing, but no pods of dolphins alas. Then off back to Perth for lunch at Kings Park and the airport. Saw free range emus!
Thurs 21 Feb
A weird day, if I’m honest. I had left my iphone on Perth time so the alarm didn’t go off, so breakfast was a bit of a rush, then I had trusted the pilot on the flight yesterday to give us the right time, but he had in fact told us ten minutes wrong, so getting off to the radio station was a scramble. But all went well and we got there in time – Jenny Walker is a star. A radio interview which consisted of trying to get a word in edgeways between the presenters, then icecream on the jetty with Jenny and off to The Corner Uniting Church to meet Melissa and Mary-Jo setting up for an afternoon with some 15 playgroup leaders. I was briefed to talk on the links between playgroups and Messy Church, Who let the Dads Out? and I thought I would add in a little faith in homes for fun. And it turned into rather a gladiatorial arena in some ways as the different theologies of church playgroups were expounded somewhat aggressively... But nothing against Messy Church or Who let the Dads Out? per se.
Dinner at the same church with Messy Church leaders at which I did the keynote (best way I know to ruin a good dinner).I actually hate doing keynotes – if I was asked to stand up and speak for an hour to encourage people I could do it happily on the hoof, but something about the responsibility to prepare and come up with a thought-through argument... We looked at Abraham and Sarah and the things that encouraged then on their journey – vision, each other, hospitality, challenge and faith – and how that might be lived out in our Messy Church ‘journeys’ when we’re been going a while. I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, I have to admit, and any good that came out of it was purely God’s strength in our weakness.
Friday 22 Feb
A good day, I think. Mostly because Melissa found me a koala in the tree nearby: a real koala! In the wild! It had a very disparaging expression, mind you. Two MC ‘expo’s’ at Walkerville UC, with a mixture of hands-on have a go crafts and celebration that Melissa and I did between us, with the crafts led by local MC’s – Walkerville and Dernancourt – followed by a Messy Church basics talk from me with lots of chance for questions and sharing of experiences. Very good fun, with a few people there from the previous night and some encouraging words, so I must have made sense despite myself. Nice to have a chance to get messy myself as well. Over to Concordia College where Melissa and the others are setting up for the Lutheran conference Invigor8, so I’m waiting for an interview with the local church papers in 20m or so and enjoying sitting quietly in the sun. Have just met the legendary Ian Price from MediaCom at long last! After the interview, it’ll be home to Melissa and Damian’s and – I think – a quiet night in in front of the tv with emails if wifi permits.
(Later) Which it doesn’t. Alas. How can a city suburb NOT have broadband? I feel very cut off from Paul. An evening rereading the draft of Messy Church Theology (a jolly good read methinks), learning my story for the devotion tomorrow, tweaking powerpoints and wondering how early I can realistically go to bed.
Saturday 23 Feb
I’m actually writing this on Tuesday en route from Adelaide to Brisbane, as the last few days have been something of a helter skelter. So let’s see what I can remember. Saturday was the big Lutheran / Uniting Church conference – Invigor8 – for children’s ministers and leaders of churches with an interest in children’s ministry. My role in the opening gathering was to lead a 7 minute opening of the Bible on the calling of the disciples, so I did the call of Peter in the Gospels Unplugged version, along with a Mexican Wave of fish names (you had to be there, perhaps). The other keynote speaker was Karl (something) who was a very good, clear, inspiring speaker, all about the projects he’s been involved with in Salisbury, working with churches and state organisations in cooperation for the good of families and children in various capacities – very exciting and affirming stuff. I led two workshops, one on Messy Church and one on all-age worship, then the other keynote, which I chose to do on ‘Making Disciples Together’. It was very hot. And the chapel, a lovely airy building, wasn’t air-conditioned. So it was very very hot. But at least the constantly fanning programmes showed people were awake. I think some of the theories and practice I’m more and more convinced of are rather challenging for traditional church folk who seem just to want to get people to do church ‘like we do church’. A pain, because this style of church simply isn’t working in most places and unless we learn to be and do church for others rather than for ourselves, we really are going to be pruned back to the quick. And we deserve that. And it will hurt.
In the evening... what did we do? Oh yes, Melissa and I were so tired but the Adelaide Festival was on, so we went out on the town and had a lovely meal out on O’Connell Street on the pavement. Very summery and cosmopolitan. We didn’t have the energy to do anything in the festival as it turned out, but it was fun to drive past the Garden of Unearthly Delights and muse on what a Messy Church might look like there...
Sunday 24 Feb
One more week to go. I went to church in the morning. The minister was friendly and made a special effort to say hello and invite me to morning tea, but oh dear. I’m not sure how much longer I am going to be able to cope with church that is ‘done at me’, where I’m just a passenger in the pew, responding fairly passively to someone else’s prayer, listening statically to someone else’s sermon. I went in expecting to enjoy not being the energiser, motivator or speaker and that I would be ‘fed’. I came out feeling depressed and lethargic and bloated. I need to come to terms with whether this is arrogance and I need to learn to take a back seat again as a spiritual discipline, or a Godly unrest that is all part of the journey he’s taking me on. I don’t think I personally am ‘fed’ by this sort of service any more. Just ‘fed up’. Sigh.
Melissa drove us up to the beautiful winegrowing Barossa Valley to have lunch at the Jacob’s Creek vineyard (though not winetasting as we both agreed that tiredness and heat combined with wine would not contribute to a fruitful afternoon’s work), then on to the Lutheran College in Tanunda for an afternoon on Messy Church with about 30 people – I think a very good afternoon that left them with lots to think about and put into action – if their churches will let them... The all-age issue is one that I need to keep hammering home, also the ‘this is not a stepping stone to traditional church but a church in its own right’ thing. It’s a lot of relearning for some, and a relief to others to have articulated what they know in their heart, and to have permission to do that. Rowan did a good thing when he gave that permission through Fresh Expressions.
Out for a final pizza and glass of very nice local wine on the terrace of a restaurant in a nearby town beginning with A. And home late evening.
Monday 25 Feb
An exciting day. A day that in a funny way will turn out to have been a historic day and one which I think we’ll say, ‘I was there!’ when state reps from all over Australia from different denominations came together to discuss what the future of Messy Church in Australia might hold. Ably and imaginatively headed up by Chris Barnett with Judyth Roberts and Melissa, we covered a vast amount of ground. I won’t write up the details here (can’t get my notes anyway or I’ll be horribly airsick) but it was a very significant, generous, fun, encouraging and hopeful day. I have a lot to do to follow up! We all went to a restaurant afterwards and enjoyed a good meal together before Melissa, no doubt gratefully, dropped me off at Jenny and Greg Walker’s again for a final night there. A beautiful evening, their daughter Sylvia’s 22nd birthday party, so cheese and more wine on the decking overlooking the ocean as the sun set. Warm hospitality, generosity and feeling at home, meaningful, fun conversation and sitting out till 10.45 in short sleeves. All very precious.
Tuesday 26 Feb
And so I catch up with myself, no doubt only to lose myself amongst time zone changes (only half an hour this time though) and travels across a continent. Jenny kindly took me to the airport via pelican-viewing on the beach and we put the world to rights before the flight to Brisbane took off. I’m now somewhere over northern SA I presume, or perhaps Victoria? Wondering how the Queensland floods will affect the events, marvelling that 30-40 were expected tonight and the numbers, according to Tim my host, have gone up to 70-80 in Towumba, and wondering how on the ball I will be with little breathing space between travelling and events. It’s better that way for me, as I have no time to think how much I’m missing Paul and Judith, Jane and Martyn and the rest of BRF and St Wilf’s family, but I just hope I make sense. Perhaps God working through my weakness: it can only be the best way, as he’ll be staying here long after I’ve left.
Later: Toowoomba, apparently! A jolly good evening with a beautiful lasagne and pavlova cooked by the church team who can join our Messy Church anytime they like – and 81 people made it, which was great. A few were stranded at home because of floods but a great turn out and Tim was well chuffed as was I. Let’s hope some of the 14 churches represented go off and get started or find the imagination and energy to move on with it.
Wednesday 27 February
Change of plans and instead of a car trip with Terry Williams, I caught the Greyhound from Toowoomba to Brisbane, met Terry there and had a delightful (birthday for him) lunch at Kangaroo Point. I’ve been sauntering round the Museum of Modern Art and getting all Papua-New-Guinean for a couple of hours, and just about to catch a flight to Maryborough for the evening’s event. I’ll arrive late but they’re cool about that and I’ll just get going whenever I arrive. I hope kayaks won’t come into it. Sitting outside on the South Bank typing this and it’s gorgeously warm and dry, so hard to imagine how badly floods have affected the rural areas in the immediate hinterland. There have already been people ringing in to apologise that they just can’t make it tonight as the roads are cut, and tomorrow in Gladstone looks distinctly dubious. Terry’s worried (as much as Terry does ‘worried’) about me being stranded and unable to get to either Ignite on Saturday or home on Sunday. Can’t say I am, but the weekend seems so far away at the moment.
Later: now the plane’s due to be late!
Later still: All was well and we had a great evening, flying in by the seat of our pants just as the meal and craft activities were drawing to an end. Instant set-up with AV Tony and away we went into an evening of Mess. Quite touching how many people were grateful to me for coming out to the countryside and not just expecting them to come into Brisbane. No skin off my nose: I just go where I’m asked and if they can raise 60-70 people to come out despite the floods, Maryborough is fine by me. Back to Julie’s in Hervey Bay at about 10.30.
Thursday 28 February
Stayed with the lovely Julie and David last night in their basement room (two ENORMOUS spiders and several mosquito bites but very nice mango for breakfast and a very brief walk to the beach before setting off at 6.30 to be dropped off with Larry and Laurie (Larry, Laurie and Lucy: we should be a comedy act) like a parcel (but nicely) to be driven up to Gladstone as they happened to be going that way. Great discussion all the way ranging from their men’s ministry (Stuff For Blokes) which is all about killing things, no, I exaggerate: they go off and do manly things in the bush for a week and talk about stuff over the campfire (surrounded by dead kangaroos). 3 ½ hours to Gladstone and I was deposited at the Baptist Church and picked up by Michael the minister and dropped back at his house to await the arrival of his family – Nicole, baby Caitlyn, 3 year old Michelle and 5 year old Gabrielle. I definitely had my fix of cuddling babies and chatting with small children: very refreshing.
The evening event at the library was a rerun of the previous two nights and went well, lots of questions. Virgin territory really so lots of groundwork to do. Home at 10ish... must sleep. My Kindle has died, probably from all the electromagnetic scans in airports. This is rather tragic. Wonder if I can claim for another on expenses...
Friday 1 March
Which way up am I? Flew back to Brisbane this morning to be met by Sue and Glen and driven across Brisbane to a radio interview with UCB or Vision Radio and Matt, who showed us round the studio afterwards. Back across Brisbane to the delightful Queenslander (house) of Sue and Glen for afternoon tea for which I was more than ready as it was getting on for 3.00 by then. Cheryl came to pick me up and kindly drove me back across Brisbane in the rush hour traffic – a journey that should have taken half an hour and which took more like two and a half hours. Great barbecue at Terry and Marg Williams’ on the verandah by the mango tree with Tammy who is keynote speaking tomorrow, Tim a workshop leader, Cheryl, and two fun teens Georgia and Emily. I am so tired! I hope I can dredge up a last burst of energy for tomorrow then I can collapse and just hanker after home wholeheartedly.
Saturday 2 March
The big IGNITE conference for children’s leaders – the final event of my trip and in many ways the biggest. There were about 700 delegates together with the leaders of about 100 electives – I guess the day long equivalent of Hand in Hand in the UK. A fun time getting set up as the pre-ordered projector and dvd player were nowhere to be seen. I had speakers, which was a good start, but it was only when dear Julie from Hervey Bay offered her own equipment that I could relax with everything set up. The dvd player never materialised and I found myself using the ripped version of the track that I had on my hard drive but have never needed to use. It was clunky but worked. The projector and extension lead appeared later, so all was well, if a little tense. But to be honest, there was nothing I could do to conjure them up and it would have been no help to be stroppy so I just nodded and smiled, nodded and smiled... And, Martyn and Jane would empathise, home from home in that the furniture needed setting up for the workshops. A sense of ‘here we go again.’ Three workshops with the same group of people throughout more or less, and the joy of seeing not only Sue and Glen from Sherwood but Lynda from BRF again and catching up with her and Steve over lunch. A handful of Messy Churches had already started but most were there to catch the vision and it was a great moment when one minister said that he now realised Messy Church was church in itself and not to be a stepping stone to Sunday church: result.
It was good to be part of something bigger and have a sense of camaraderie with the other leaders. We went out to a restaurant at the end of the day and had a noisy celebratory meal, which I must admit I thought would be an ordeal but turned out to be very entertaining. I was very glad to hit the pillow though.
Sunday 3 March
Well. Here I am at Brisbane airport, cursing the mean-spirited bean pushers who haven’t provided free wifi, but freed thereby from the obligatory email / Facebook prowl to finish off this travel diary as I wait at gate 83.
Thoughts, in no particular order
1) The Australian Christians I have met have been superbly hospitable and generous with their homes, wifi, care and family lives and I would love our own home to be a place people feel is an oasis on their wilderness journeys.
2) The Aussie church is as diverse and full of despair and hope, of love of the old and vision for the new as ours in the UK. Messy Church has so much to bring to the mix, just like at home – the way God is using it to give a new generation a chance to belong to a church community is literally a godsend to many struggling churches. Ecumenical Messy Churches must be encouraged as rural areas are Rural with a capital R and we should think about doing an Australian project like the CTBI ecumenical project. The situation in schools, with a flourishing but threatened school chaplaincy system run by the churches means there will be Messy Churches starting in schools: the sooner we can get Martyn’s reflections on schools out to them, the better, so that they don’t make the mistakes many are making here.
3) Messy Church is in very good hands with the range of folk across the different states and denominations who have a care for it: a mix of hands-on practitioners and strategic gatekeepers. But unexpectedly, I feel it’s right for me (or at least someone from the BRF team) to keep on supporting them, keeping them in touch with the mothership and making sure we are maintain a close mutual friendship and network, even across the world. They are going to need quite local regional coordinators and networks because of the distances involved. It may be the right thing for both Jane and me to go out for the 2014 round table and bring the skills we will have practised by then to ‘train the trainers’. In many ways it would be great to take Martyn too: a combo of my ‘seed-sowing’ ministry, Jane’s encouraging and networking gifts and Martyn’s ability to observe, record and reflect wisely would be a real boon. I realise I love Australia and feel very much at home here, despite the very different climates. I can’t imagine not returning.
4) Happy though I’ve been and useful though I think the work has been, I can’t wait to be home again!