For the last two years I’ve been telling anyone who asks that it’s still ages until I leave. Suddenly we are there now and this week has felt very strange as a number of lasts and farewells have taken place. Many of you have asked how I feel about this move and I’ve said that I’ll be delighted to be working closer to home, and that I’m looking forward to worshiping with my family for the first time in ages. But saying goodbye to the Umhlali church family has been hard.
I’m sure you were also disappointed to hear the outcome of World Rugby’s investigation into Rassie Erasmus’ video – the one he made following South Africa’s loss in the first test against the British Lions earlier this year. From what I had read recently it sounded like the committee agreed with much of his criticism of the referee and it appeared that Erasmus had not actually leaked the video himself, so there was little likelihood of him being found guilty of any charges.
We've been talking for nearly two years about 'getting back to normal', haven’t we? We're not there yet, but last Sunday's service felt to me a lot closer to 'normal' than we've been throughout the pandemic. Yes, we were still masked and smearing our hands with sanitizer, but we had two well-attended services and, especially encouraging for me was the number of children/youth who were back in our 08h30 service.
Thursday was such an encouraging morning at the UMC office. Our incoming minister, Mark Wiemers came down from Richards Bay and spent the morning with us. It was a chance for him to spend some informal time meeting members of the UMC staff team and some of our leaders, and also visiting the principals of DLA and So-High and getting a look at what happens in these two fantastic little schools that partner with UMC. Times of transition can be unsettling for a community, but I also sensed a real excitement yesterday, both in Mark who is really excited about the move, and in our UMC leaders who have found it easy to connect with Mark and are looking forward to his fresh perspective on ministry in our community. Change can be scary, but also exciting!
Tuesday evening’s UMC leaders’ meeting began with a moment of nostalgia as we looked back over the last number of years and reflected on what God has been doing in our community during this time. I remembered my first UMC leaders’ meeting in early 2012 when we all crammed into the big upstairs room at the manse. It was a very hot and humid evening and the first decision of the night was to get the aircon repaired ASAP :)
No presence, no encounter.” This was the simple phrase that stood out for me in a talk given by Trevor Hudson at our spiritual direction course this week. Trevor was making the point that being fully present and attentive is vital in the context of spiritual direction (a listening relationship where the director is carefully listening to the directee and they are together listening to God).
Umhlali’s Women’s Auxiliary has a long and proud history in our church of selfless service, enthusiastic and generous support for a huge range of mission projects over the years, and for nurturing faith amidst a caring network of friends. These last 18 months of not being able to meet have reminded us all of the incredible gift that our WA has been to our church.
Last Sunday we had our first service back in the church since 14 March 2020 – marking the end of a period of nearly 18 months of pre-recorded services. The words of our opening psalm set the tone for the service: "When the Lord brought back the exiles to Zion,we were like those in a dream. Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy" (Psalm 126)
Over the last week, I’ve been working my way through John Mark Comer’s excellent little book, The ruthless elimination of hurry. The title is a reference to a remark made by the late philosopher and Christian author Dallas Willard to author and pastor John Ortberg. Ortberg had just joined the staff of a large church in Chicago and he phoned Willard one day and asked him, “What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy?” After a long pause, Willard replied, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg wrote down those words. “That’s a good one,” he said. “Now, what else is there?” Willard’s answer? “There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
The Bishops are spending time away with family in the Cape this week and so Clifton Bartholomew is leading our service this morning. In one of our upcoming services we will be having a special presentation for Cliff, who has now fulfilled all the requirements to be received as a fully qualified local preacher (or, in Methodist-speak, a “local preacher on full plan”). It’s been quite a journey for him – having his services regularly assessed by ministers and other preachers and completing a number of theology courses and some Wesleyan studies. This a milestone that we celebrate with him as a community as he joins our two other preachers at UMC (Ozzy Madlala and John Bredenkamp).