Tuesday, November 17, 2009


He lost his way in the middle of the sentence.

I was invited to attend a dinner tonight – along with seventy other people. And we were standing around the bar making “before dinner small talk”, when he struck up a conversation with me. After exchanging names we talked for about ten minutes. But the conversation never went anywhere, because it consisted of half completed sentences. He would begin a sentence and forget where he was going. He could not remember the names, places or events he wanted to describe. His memories have been locked up in a place he cannot find. And my heart bled for him.

Here is a man with an illustrious history behind him, but who is unable to maintain coherence in his present. His brain has become forgetful/foggy/distracted. And so we chatted together about nothing - literally. And I wished him well; and he thanked me for my good wishes; and he wandered off with a gentle smile.

And I deep down inside of me I prayed that I would never get lost like this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Calling back the Past

I am sitting in a service at the Rusthof Methodist Church. I was the minister here from January1988 - December 1997. This congregation was established 100 years ago, but was torn apart by the forced removals of the Apartheid era. So today they celebrate their survival and growth here in 'the wilderness' of what was the Rusthof farm. This congregation has worshipped in this building for the past 40 years. Many tears were shed, much bitterness has been overcome, and this church flourishes long after the Apartheid government has been buried. I thank God for this resurrection from the ashes of the old past.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Living and Dying

He is dying.
He looks healthy and well – but after blood tests, scans, a biopsy, and surgical investigation, the doctors have told him that cancer has invaded his body to such an extent that there is nothing they can do. So he and I sat one afternoon last week and talked about his future. Then he summoned his family and friends to a meeting on Monday evening.

And about 25 people gathered in his garage. This is the place he plays darts, and drinks beer, and generally hangs out with his friends. And we talked together about life, and death, and about dying well. He told them about his illness. Then he asked his family and friends not to feel sorry for him, or to begin treating him differently. I invited them to help him die well – to go out with “all flags flying.” I suggested that they get hold of the movie “The Bucket List” and watch it. And I suggested that he draw up his own list of things he wants to do before he dies.

I facilitated a moment when his friends and family each expressed a wish for his life. Amongst these were wishes for strength and courage and joy. They also suggested that he needs to go fishing, hang out with his grandson, and let go of bitternesses and hurts from the past. We sang some hymns, I read Psalm 23, and we prayed for him.

Then we had tea together. His friends teased him that he was hiding the “good stuff” because the minister was present, and he promised to leave a will where he allocated all his financial debt amongst his children.

When I left his home I knew that he would die well.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Baptism

The congregation mostly walks to church – and today is grey with rain. It began raining yesterday afternoon and has not stopped. And so the people dodge puddles as they arrive, wet and shaking umbrellas.

Today is a baptism service and the church soon fills up with family members, supporters and congregation. The band members trickle in and begin to tune their guitars - waiting for the keyboard player. I too am waiting for him, because I want this service to go well. Not only does he play the keyboard, but he owns the laptop which is connected to the projector for the words to the songs. But he does not appear so I allow the band to lead some community singing: which is really the old favourites that (hopefully) can be sung from memory.

I am in the vestry praying with the stewards when we get a message that one of the members of the congregation has had an epileptic fit. He is known to everyone – and so I lead the congregation in a prayer for him while various church members get him out of his seat and carry him to a side room where he recovers.
I read from John Chapter 4: the story of a Samaritan woman who engages a Jewish rabbi in conversation about religious division. (OK, OK, I know that there is much more in this passage – but I spoke about the way we use religion to perpetuate our religious divisions). I invited the people to discover God’s blessing that transcends the human barriers we erect. And I invited them to see the baptism of infants as a moment of God’s unconditional welcome.

Then I invited the parents to bring their children: there were four of them: dressed in their “Sunday best.” And amongst them was a little boy whose mother is lost in a haze of “tik” – but whose granny brought him so that we could pray for him and, in her words, “so that the church could know who he is.” And I baptised him, and prayed for him, and introduced him to the congregation.

As I watched the tears run down the cheeks of his granny, I knew we had done the right thing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Prayer for Preparation to Study

O God
It is exam time again. And I want to do my best.
I believe that You gave me my mind and the ability to think; and that You gave me my memory and the ability to learn. I am grateful for all I have learned in the past, and I choose to trust You for all I am to learn today.
Open my mind Lord as I read my books and notes. Help me not to be distracted by the other things of life. Keep me from getting into a panic and help me to do justice to all my work and preparations.
O Jesus Christ may this be a worthy time that is faithful to you. I offer this time and prayer in your holy Name. Amen.

Monday, November 02, 2009


There are sixteen families living in this City Council concrete block: four apartments across and four levels up. Graffiti, children underfoot, dogs, minibus taxis with loud hip-hop music, and young men sitting on the pavement.

She lives on the ground floor, corner apartment. Warily eyeing the dog of nondescript origin, I carefully open the property’s gate and walk down the short cement block pathway. She is sitting in a worn chair at the door, managing three toddlers who busily clamber around her furniture. They are her grandchildren. She cares for them, assisted by state welfare grants. Her youngest daughter finished school two years ago and has yet to find a job. She is not a mother, and helps to care for the three toddlers. Her sisters live elsewhere and struggle with their addictions.

I am here to talk about the youngest addition to the family. His mother is addicted to “tik” (Methamphetamine, also known as “speed” or “crystal meth”) and her only interest in life is satisfying her craving. She used to live with her mother, but exasperated with the constant theft of her possessions, granny kicked her daughter out, but kept the grandchild. And now wants to “do the right thing” for her grandchild: she wants him baptised.

And I will do this – because baptism is not a reward for good behaviour, or a way of getting people into heaven, or a way of showing that someone has been especially righteous. Baptism is a sign of the Grace of God: a grace that says to a struggling grandmother that she is not alone. God is with her as she raises this child.

This coming Sunday the welcome of God’s community will freely embrace her and her grandchild. We will sing songs, and pray for her, and assure her of the love of God. Perhaps you can pause on Sunday and pray for her too.