Buying Power

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 25 October 2012.

Synod is our church’s parliament, and usually involves tedium. We have just celebrated what we were looking forward to, but today I want to tell you about a pleasant surprise we weren’t anticipating.

A group of church representatives had been thinking about the future of the church within the diocese, and taken note of the predictions for population growth. In the next few decades, we can expect Sydney to swell by nearly a million people, and a substantial proportion - around 30% - will be living in entirely new suburbs in Sydney’s northwest and southwest, and in the Illawarra.

GreenfieldsThat’s hundreds of thousands of people living in new places - places where there is no existing church. What was proposed to synod was that the diocese needs to get in at ‘ground level’ as these new suburbs are developed, and make sure we buy parcels of land for churches to be built upon. These ‘greenfields’ projects are not cheap - each site could cost $2 million - but they are timely, as the same amount of land, bought subsequent to development, would cost many times more - and that’s presuming you can find it.

So the parishes joyfully agreed to contribute $2 million next year to buy land, and will likely continue this in future years. It means that we will donate a couple of thousand dollars - and be buying a whole new church! That’s buying power for you...but we won’t be buying places of power, we’ll be buying sites for sacrifice, service, love and grace.

What a privilege to share in such fellowship to grow God’s kingdom!

Building for the Future

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 20 October 2012.

TronFor just over two centuries, Christians have been meeting in a church in Glasgow called St George’s Tron - an odd name, perhaps, but a great church. William Phillip, the senior minister, gave the conference talks at CMS Summer School in Katoomba in 2009. It’s a good church, working hard at reaching the lost in the middle of the city.

Three years ago, the Church of Scotland decided that it was prepared to ordain homosexual ministers. Last year, it affirmed its decision by doing so.  This year, it refused to confirm that its churches were reserved for worshipping Jesus alone. The mind boggles. And so in June, St George’s Tron seceded from the Church of Scotland.

In the last couple of weeks, the Kirk has struck back. The denomination has begun legal action against the church to evict the congregations and claim the buildings and parish bank accounts. It’s also taking action against the senior minister and some of his staff.

The congregation has poured time and money into their church, and now they stand to lose it all ... but they can rejoice that they have been building for the future. They have built disciples of Jesus; they have built relationships of love and fellowship. Our security is not found in bricks and mortar or pounds and pence, but in the risen Lord Jesus. May they, and we, continue to trust in him alone!

The Myth of Christianity?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 12 October 2012.

GravestoneThis century has seen a decade of atheism - the loud voices of  Dawkins and Harris, the more measured tones of Hitchens and de Botton. Academic atheism has made its way out of the university and into the public sphere in a way that hasn’t been seen for some time.

Not surprisingly, this has been noticed by the media, and the story has been told many times: Christianity is in decline. Well, sort long as you don’t look too carefully at the rest of the world - but it’s definitely in decline in the West. Atheism is ascendant.

It was encouraging to hear during synod what’s been happening in our neck of the woods, the Sydney diocese. Amongst the 4.5 million people who live here, the census last year found a princely 10,000 (0.2%) who described themselves as atheists. In fact, the greatest shift has been that more people have been describing themselves as having no religion rather than ignoring the question. As for us Anglicans - during the last decade, we’ve increased by 7%. It’s still a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start. In the same period, there have also been over a hundred new congregations planted, a 25% rise in the number of ministers working in the diocese, and an almost 90% rise in the money that parishioners have given to support church mnistry.

We’re not dead yet, no matter what reports of our demise have been issued - which means there’s plenty to get on with!

North by Northwest

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 30 September 2012.

North by NorthwestDriving this week through part of the state’s outback, it was impossible not to be struck by the immensity of the landscape. Whether it was enormous mountains seemingly bursting from the earth or broad, sweeping plains that went as far as the eye could see, vastness was the flavour of it all.

It reminded me of the Hitchcock film, North by Northwest, and its famous scene set in the American Midwest, pictured below. The speck in the middle of the frame is Cary Grant, playing a man who stands for nothing: a Madison Avenue advertising executive whose middle initial is O - literally, representing his nothingness. Hitchcock placed him in the dusty fields to highlight his isolation and helplessness. It was an effective ploy, the impact increased by the silence and stillness of the location.

The sense of foreboding is palpable...and understandable. We do not like being alone, and rightly so. Humanity was made for connection, for contact. Solitary confinement is seen as the punishment that terrifies even the punished.  And the emptiness of space is seen as evidence that God is a fiction.

How good it is to know that in the vastness of this cosmos (yes, we went to Siding Spring), we are not alone. ‘...Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.’ (Psalm 139:10)

Superheroes - Sometimes

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 20 September 2012.

the-Phantom LG

The Ghost Who Walks is of course a nickname for the comic strip hero ‘The Phantom’, created by Lee Falk in 1936 - predating Superman by two years. The Phantom established many of the conventions of the superhero genre, such as skintight suits and face masks.

For those who came in late (and yes, that’s an in-joke for the fans), the Phantom is just a normal human being, fit and healthy, but with a lineage. Generation after generation of Phantoms have followed their father in the purple suit, giving rise to the legend that the Phantom cannot die: he is the Ghost Who Walks. In truth, he’s as fallible as anyone else, and immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if it’s your great-great-great-grandson 14 times over who’s enjoying it...

Since the Phantom, we’ve seen superheroes abounding (over tall buildings, no less!) - and they’ve tended to be superhuman as well: aliens, mutants, and the like. What’s interesting is that universally, these beings who are greater than the rest of us have all come with some kind of vulnerability, a critical weakness that is often seen to negate their abilities.

It seems that, even in our imaginations, humanity is unwilling to trust something out of this world that sounds too good to be true - and we’d rather beef up a human rescuer to do the job. When it comes to proclaiming Christ, these are our great hope and our own Achilles’ heel. But he’s not fiction!

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