Cakes, weddings and Jesus

I’d like to raise a question I haven’t raised before anywhere. I’m thinking aloud, so this isn’t a ‘position’ in any sense. More an exploratory question …

To date I’ve shared common Christian concerns for Christian bakers, photographers, etc as we anticipate an altered social and legislative landscape with ‘same-sex marriage’. And I do want to see religious freedom appropriately enshrined in our democracy. Among other things, I want our’s to be a society where the bakers and the rest are able, should they so choose, to make socially unpopular decisions according to religious conscience, without fear of prosecution.

But all that said I’m just wondering whether our approach to the matter needs a rethink, at least in part. It’s one thing to want the protections I’ve just referred to, to be in place. It’s another to recommend that such stands as those taken by the now proverbial bakers, necessarily be taken.

I’m thinking about where we are now socially, versus maybe 50 years ago, re de facto marriages and single parenting. Back then (ok, so I was only 7) it wasn’t uncommon for clergy to insist that a non-church couple living together separate and/or cease intimate relations as a condition of a ‘church wedding’. Likewise some would refuse (politely or otherwise) to consider baptising a child whose parents weren’t married. People living in de facto relationships and unwed mothers had good reason to feel uncomfortable in churches. They commonly felt they were being gossiped about and judged; and they were probably right very often. Similar observations could have been made in the wider community among professionals such as teachers, doctors or even shopkeepers; the more so if the service providers were evangelical Christians, but not them only.

To relate the matter more closely to the subject at hand, I’m wondering how a Christian baker in 1950 might have taken a request for a ‘Christening’ cake for a child whose parents weren’t married. Yes, it’s a hypothetical; people didn’t have parties and cut work-of-art cakes every 5 minutes back then. But if such a thing did happen, my guess is an awkward transaction at the very least, and maybe even a decline.

The picture nowadays is I think rather different. It’s not that evangelical pastors, churches or people have watered down our moral convictions about godly living according to Scripture. We still teach and disciple our church members by the same standards as our forebears did. But what has happened, as I perceive it, is a realisation that we ain’t living in Christendom. We don’t expect regenerate lives and behaviour from unregenerate people. We haven’t decided that de facto marriages and single parenting are perfectly ‘ok’ now. But at a pastoral level we’re inclined to live with some moral ambiguities, even if only as means to the end of people being among us long enough to see Jesus’ lovely character in us, and of us having an opportunity to invite them to receive salvation in him.

So my question is for the Christian community generally, as we anticipate the altered landscape that’s likely ahead – and that won’t be a passing phase. I ask it of Christian providers of goods or services to the general public, and I ask it of my fellow pastors – we who will counsel, disciple and encourage the former among us. Will it be biblical and best serve the cause of the Gospel, for Christian providers of goods and services, particularly but not only in the ‘wedding industry’, to decline service to same-sex couples or families on grounds of conscience? Or might we rather serve graciously and generously, regardless of our vastly differing moral convictions, so as to be able to serve the Gospel? I submit that we’ve largely adopted the latter perspective with de facto couples and single parents, and rightly, in my view. Is it not likely that the same will become our approach to same-sex couples and the children they raise, in a world where – failing an extraordinary work of revival – we will be increasingly peripheral?

Jesus and Anzac

I’m just back from a half-day’s Anzac Day commemoration here in Cooma. Part 1 – the Anzac Service at the Cooma Cenotaph. Part 2 – the semi-formal lunch at the Cooma Ex-Serviceman’s Club, complete with post-lunch two-up in the presence of a passive and smiling police inspector. Another welcome cultural experience for this still fairly green country town pastor.

It was my lot to be the ‘Anzac Chaplain’ for 2014. This consisted of delivering the ‘Anzac Oration’ during the service, and saying grace before the subsequent lunch .. oh, and a seat at the high table too.

Some random reflections …

  • probably about 1000 attended the service. Not too shabby in a town of 8000. A fine opportunity for further public exposure, which is pretty important in rural ministry.
  • a privilege to address the Anzac theme so closely in the shadow of Easter. Gold, when one considers the shrinking scope for pointing largely non-church Australians to the gospel of Jesus in a public way. Praying that some people were given cause to consider Jesus as the preeminent exemplar of humility and self-giving in his Cross.
  • thankful that in a country community the church and clergy are still at some level embraced as central to the community. For how much longer? Who knows … but may we use the resulting opportunities, such as this one, well.
  • perplexed by christendom’s death throes. ‘Chaplain’ kind of says it really. That and the fact that the traditional RSL Anzac service is basically a liturgy of Christian hymns and prayers (albeit with a little doubtful theology here and there), but in language Christians don’t use anymore and with the ‘chaplain’ as an invited guest for a single part. Not whinging at the latter, please understand, but certainly much pondering.
  • wondering … Is there a possibility of recovering a more central role in this event (given it’s tacitly ‘Christian’ nature)? Or is it better to let it gradually die and seek other entry points?

Introverts in the Church

“Introverts in the Church”, Adam S McHugh


I came across this title in the course of researching on the subject of introversion among Christian pastoral leaders. The author, Adam McHugh, has written a lucid and thorough, though very readable, theological reflection on the subject of being an introvert (in the Jungian / Myers-Briggs sense) in the context of the evangelical church community, whether as a minister / leader or as a general church member.

The reader who values clear, thoughtful exposition of the Bible will be very pleased by the way McHugh has blended personal experience, contemporary cultural awareness, psychological insights and biblical truth. He encourages introverts to takes their place in all parts of the church, as the people they are. Alongside that he likewise makes a compelling case for the evangelical church to value the strengths introverts can bring to pastoral ministry, and to positively embrace them as members of leadership teams, for the good health of the whole church.

This book is timely in a church culture which, in my view, has drifted into a socially imbalanced and biblically deficient obsession with leadership models which are heavily skewed in favour of extroverted personalities. The cultural context McHugh writes from and to is that of the US, where extroversion predominates in church and ministry life to a degree significantly greater than is the case here in Australia, where I am. In that sense some sentiments in the book related to the deep personal struggles of introverts in the church environment, are less applicable here. However the difference is at most slight for this of us in leadership in Australian churches, since US models predominate here also.

All we need now is someone to write the equivalent volume for Aussies …

More evidence that God uses a mac

I’ve discovered an even better method of using my iPad as a preacher, and surely further proof that there will be no Windows in heaven. One of those serendipitous discoveries when searching for something else … I think it might help others too. Now I imagine there might be ways for the recalcitrant to do this from a PC, but I wouldn’t know. Another reason to repent of your Windows allegiance .. (but I digress .. )

I discovered that Pages ((current) ’09 mac desktop version – not the iPad version) can export to the .epub book reader format, which is the ebook format recognised by iBooks (and also some other book readers). If you then load that file into “Books” in iTunes, and sync your iPad, you then have your sermon notes as an eBook rather than a PDF. So that means you’ll find it in the ‘books’ section of iBooks on your iPad, rather than the ‘PDF’ section.

That’s where the beauty starts 🙂 You have much more reader interface power at your disposal than with a PDF:
• You can increase or decrease the font size right on the device with a few finger taps (so no more bothering about font size, page size and margin size in your desktop word processor), and
• You’ll notice that swapping the iPad between landscape and portrait orientation also has the effect of offering you the choice of a single page / whole screen view, or a paperback-novel-type view with two small pages side-by-side – and the illusion of flipping real pages in a real book as you read.

The latter feature means, in theory at least, easier adaptation from paper notes to electronic – irrespective of whether your brain is used to speaking from full A4 single-side notes or from something like an A5 ring binder or display book printed double-side. My 30-year pattern has been the latter, so having made this discovery I’m now using landscape mode and it almost feels like I’m using my familiar binder 🙂

What you can’t, of course, do with this method is annotate your notes on the iPad. So if doing that is important for the way you work, then I guess you’d be wiser sticking with PDF and something like GoodReader. But if it works for you to do all your annotating, highlighting etc on your desktop before syncing – then I think this method would be hard to beat. It would mean buying Pages for your mac if you don’t already have it, but you don’t need to spend a cent on any iPad apps.

God-talk on Facebook

Some thoughts by one recent Facebook returnee …

Facebook has without question become one of the key places where the world hangs out. (e.g. a recent newspaper article reports that a third of the Australian population now has a Facebook account). So whatever misgivings one may have about Facebook (and I certainly have some), my personal conclusion is that Christians generally, and leaders especially, should be here for the Kingdom’s sake.

But questions remain, and here is but one of them. From a Kingdom point of view, what is the most helpful approach to open discussions (such as occur frequently on one of my friends’ wall) between members of the Christian community, where folks who may not call themselves Christians are listening in and sometimes participating? Is this the right or best place to discuss especially matters of serious contention between believers? (NB: I’m asking this openly, with no assumed ‘right’ answer!)

It’s not that there needs to be a problem with spiritual seekers seeing that Christians have disagreements. And indeed, thinking in terms of Paul’s engagement with the Athenians (Acts 17, second half), there’s something potentially very exciting about taking the Gospel and it’s ramifications into the public ‘marketplace’ of ideas.

But one question that arises is the risk of misunderstanding in this very detached medium, where it’s no simple matter to convey all the nuances of meaning. e.g. To a listener who doesn’t know the wider context or the range of what’s assumed among Christians, a positive comment based on an orthodox understanding of the Bible could well read as hopelessly bigoted or arrogant.

Or to look at it another way, if we’d at least think twice before passionately debating it in a café, should we debate it on Facebook?

My purpose is definitely not to draw lines in the sand. But I hope this may generate some thoughtful reflection.

Calmly sipping

Here’s my latest “pastoral analysis” of the options for receiving Communion in the quarantine age. Drafted with my current ministry in mind – a traditional Anglican parish …

Drinking from the common cup
• Natural expression of Jesus’ command “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Mk 14:23)
• Expresses our oneness
• Historic, consistent with tradition
• Still by far the norm among Anglicans
• Risk at some level of transmitting infection
• Unwise for those with a cold
• Causes anxiety for some, who may choose not to receive the wine at all

Most likely the risk of transmission is very low, and no greater than many daily activities like shaking hands, sharing a cuppa and biscuit, or eating from a buffet. There’s no practical evidence that this tradition produces higher levels of sickness, but it would be nearly impossible to prove either way. Generally regarded as very safe provided the cup is wiped thoroughly.

Dipping in a separate cup
• Expresses oneness, to some extent
• Can be safer if some have a cold
• Reduces anxiety
• Looks safer to visitors or anyone wary of the common cup
• Becoming more common
• Not a natural expression of Jesus’ command to eat and then drink
• Compromises sense of oneness
• Depends on no one’s finger touching wine or inside of cup
• Not historic in public worship

Most would regard this as very safe, provided no fingers contact the liquid or inside cup. If that does happen the risk of infection becomes much higher – probably higher than drinking from the common cup. Using a wide chalice with a very low depth of wine minimises the risk, but it would be virtually impossible to prevent entirely.

Drinking from individual glasses
• preserves a natural sense of drinking
• those with colds can freely share
• established norm in some (non-Anglican) churches
• growing Anglican use in recent years
• very little for anyone to be anxious about!
• may reduce sense of oneness substantially
• not historically Anglican
• some complexity in administering

The most radical solution from a history and tradition point of view, but also the best guarantee for reducing the risk of infection and the related concerns. Although there’s little sense of sharing the cup, there’s more sense of eating and drinking than is the case with dipping.

Personally? I’m still a common cup person. Failing that I’d be happier with individual cups than with dipping.

Sacramental philosophy, anyone?

If you’re confused about which world you’re in, try this one for size: Virtual Holy Communion? at Brownblog ..

But seriously, there is some real wrestling here for leaders in the C21st church. The virtual world is an undeniable reality (now there’s another line for the philosophers … ). And heaven knows, we have some missional challenges ahead of us. Challenging enough reaching spiritually lost people in a physical world. Now we’re talking about finding, reaching and winning them through their avatars in Second Life or some other virtual world.

Technophile though I am, I haven’t even entered Second Life, and wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t know whether to regard such a prospect as a massive distraction from the “real” world where I could face a real encounter with my real wife who thinks I’m real-ly too distracted from real-ity already, or whether to welcome it as a gospel frontier just waiting for one such as I to answer the call …

The postal Jesus?

You’ve got wafer Just check this one out. I suppose it had to happen some time. Rather topical after just posting the other day about communion cups and lurgies. I had a lively discussion on the same subject at a deanery meeting (that’s Anglican lingo for a meeting of ministers in a geographical area) today, and later on one deanery member discovered this article.

I wonder if they do international … ?

Of cups and microbes

Well it’s about my turn probably. Wednesday: I got home from a first-rate Melbourne Anglican ministry conference, possibly the best ever for me. Thursday: early signs of a cold. Now it’s Saturday evening, and I’m facing the prospect of preaching to two congregations with a raspy throat, a headache and my nose running like a tap. But such is life for those who preach. It’s just as I said .. probably about my turn.

But other thoughts arise as well. The sad irony that the great conference may be the source of the bug that got me. The unsolvable hypothesis: is it swine flu? (I may never know since the state of Victoria is now beyond the quarantine stage where every sniff is tested. It’s now the collective grin-and-bear-it and see-what-happens stage.) And most of all the pastoral conundrum: what will we do with communion?

The bread and the cup
Well what indeed? Like other liturgical churches, we Anglicans have historically taken pride in our preservation of the common cup when we share the Lord’s Supper. So much so, that some of my more liturgically impassioned colleagues would view the end of the common cup as the end of life as we know it. To me it’s sometimes a puzzle. I too value the common cup. But then I’d also much prefer a common loaf of .. well, um .. bread. That’s the spongy stuff that rises, in contrast with those tiny flat white discs in general Anglican use. Now I admit that they do melt in contact with human saliva at a faster pace than polystyrene in all likelihood does. But my intellect struggles to identify them as “bread”; and even if a panel of lawyers, linguists and dieticians were to declare them so, it would not end the matter. A hundred white discs is certainly not a single loaf, whatever else it might be.

So what do we have? Well historically at least, we have:

  • in the blue corner – the one cup wonders basking in the liturgical purity of sharing the same cup, whilst largely oblivious to their singular lack of one-loafness (that’s the ‘one’ and the ‘loaf’ both missing in action); and
  • in the red corner – the one loaf lovers exulting in oneness and breadness, whilst drinking grape juice (some even call it ‘cordial’) from a platoon of private thimbles.

Either way few of us can claim the high liturgical ground when it comes to “eating this bread and drinking the cup” (1 Cor 11:26). Puts a few things in perspective, don’t you think?

So to return to cups, coughs and sneezes … What does one do to be alert and not alarmed, like any good blue-blooded Aussie, which used to be most Anglicans? Well it does rather depend whom you talk to, and how long ago they took their white coats and test tubes to church.

One popular approach is intinction, which despite the sound actually involves neither cosmetics nor brushes. Historically this practice of dipping the bread (or whatever those silly things are) in the wine developed as a practical means of giving communion to sick people, and it still has much to commend it in that pastoral context. But in latter years it’s become a hit with the germ-free supper brigade, in the quest not only to save sinners but to sterilise them as well. (Digestively, that is … ) On the surface it makes good sense. But as the white coated army tell us, the surface is precisely the catch. Multitudinous microbes take up residence on human hands in the most innocent of moments. Those sinister microbes employ a two-pronged attack on the unsuspecting dipper:

  • one microbic cohort jumps from the minister’s hand to the wafer, and thence to the receiver’s hand where it gathers reinforcements. As the wafer breaks the surface of the liquid a detachment of menacing microbes leaps into the crimson flow, and then lies in wait for another wafer to board
  • and whilst that’s happening, another cohort abseils down the receiver’s finger, in readiness for the moment when the fingertip itself touches the liquid, providing the easiest transit for these living weapons of mass infection

Beyond that the picture gets slightly murkier, but not much. One scientific opinion from 1995 concluded that “although intinction is by no means completely microbe-free, it does seem to reduce the risk over that of sipping from a common communion cup.” More recent opinion however is much less equivocal. Notably a Toronto (Canada) diocesan investigation of 2003 found intinction to pose a greater risk of transmitting infection than sipping from a common cup, on the twin grounds that preventing every communicant’s fingers from touching the wine is impossible and that there are no “cleansing options” between communicants. The latter study rates sipping from a common cup as a “minimal risk” (comparable to many other daily activities, such as shaking hands), but assesses intinction “a higher risk activity” since “fingertips of intinctors may contaminate the shared wine with pathogens other than those found in saliva.” The concluding recommendations include the complete discontinuation of intinction in public worship on health grounds, with scientific backing.

So all in all it seems intinction deserves extinction. Alternatives are needed, clearly. Recognising the increased risk of transmission whilst someone has viral symptoms, one now quite common piece of Anglican pastoral advice is that affected communicants should receive the bread only, for as long as the symptoms are noticeable. This is predictable, yet to me thoroughly unsatisfying. It almost assumes that drinking from a common cup is of the essence of the sacrament itself. That deserves to be challenged. I think it represents a confusion between essence and method. If Jesus intended the bread and the cup to serve as food for faith, then eating and drinking matter infinitely more than any one received means of partaking. Believers may develop varied preferences between a leavened loaf, various varieties of unleavened bread, individual wafers, a common chalice, unfermented grape juice, individual glasses, red table wine, and fortified wine. But if all are “a participation in” the blood and the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16), the method must be secondary to the spiritual needs of the worshipper. If any member of the body is barred from partaking by one method, let them use another. No cathedral ceiling has collapsed under the weight of a single glass thimble, to my knowledge.

Illness aside, the common cup tradition has little to fear from the weight of current microbiological opinion. That certainly is the conclusion of the Canadian Anglican paper, along with heightened attention to cleansing at various points. The principle elements of such a strategy might be summed up thus:

  • at all times, communion ministers, communion assistants and sacristans should apply an antimicrobial rinse to their hands before handling communion vessels or elements.
  • sterilise purificators, plates and cups in an antimicrobial rinse between uses.
  • common chalices should be wiped thoroughly after each administration of the cup to a communicant, and purificators changed frequently during the service.

Here endeth the lesson. Now back to the tissue box, Vitamin C, Echinacea, lemon, honey, oil, water and whatever folk remedy one trusts.