During Lent, a number of parishioners joined in a Lenten study entitled ‘Sentinels’. Don Rowlands shares more.

Our Lent group decided to discover what it means to be “Sentinels” of our faith during March and April. The study was the creative work of the Wellington Diocese that set us the challenge of being Sentinels, or signposts of new life and hope – the lamp on the hill – of God’s transformation of the people and places we inhabit.

Bishop Justin Duckworth had us read Matthew 4:1-11 and explore the strength, wisdom and ministry Jesus obtained from his desert experience. We shared as a group our own life, suffering and the ways that this had led to experiences of God’s love, empathy, perseverance, mountaintop vision and hope. Our wilderness times (“gone bush” in a New Zealand setting) included grief, relationship separation, poor health and isolation.

We took inspiration from the prophetic life of T.W. Ratana and Rev Arnold Nordmeyer, who ministered to the hardship needs of the Waitaki Hydro work force. As individuals we were asked to identify God’s invitation to us personally. We reflected on what Joy Cowley wrote “in this present birthing struggle, it is so important that we are midwives to each other, helping one another towards new life.” (Veil Over the Light)

Dr Geoff Troughton introduced us to the writings of Abraham Heschel and Martin Luther King that influenced his activism. “We encounter God within a situation of shared suffering, of shared responsibility.” The group viewed photos of Pieta art works that creatively reflected the nature of God’s love from the time of Michelangelo, 1498.

Archdeacon David Rowe targeted the lost art of God conversations. His message was about our need to practise and to be prepared to step outside social constraints and conventions. The anointing of the feet of Jesus in John 12: 1-8 was an example of great love. Our group decided to practise God conversation from these starters:

Plea: Right now I feel in the wilderness.

Response: Do you want to talk about what is going on for you? Jesus went through his time in the wilderness.

Plea: The care in this place is shit.

Response: Sounds like you have found it tough here. What would be help?

Plea: God didn’t answer my prayer when my child was dying.

Response: I am sorry for your loss. What hard times you have been through. God sometimes answers our prayer in ways we don’t expect. I believe he suffers with us and knows our pain.

Plea: All my family and friends are in the UK.

Response: When we had to shift, we found support in the church.

Diana Langdon addressed intergenerational stress within our congregations. Our group had fun making separate lists for “boomers”[born 1944 to 1964] and generation Z [born after 1981].

“Boomers” have marriages, a career for life, childhood church attendance, set gender roles, home ownership, letters, land lines and alcohol or benzodiazepine.

Generation Z have cell phones, fast food, job flexibility; online skills, Facebook, Snap Chat, Tinder, blended families, live-in partners, gay friends, diverse gender roles, climate change awareness and “weed”. They use “like” as a conjunction and the words “cool” “sick” and “awesome” for positive stuff.                                                        Our group decided that Lifestreams/Nga Puna Waiora is an intergenerational service and IT Assistance is a good outreach.

One chapter focused on “metanoia” (Greek) or to change one’s mind to align with the mind of God. This Godly fruitfulness was taught in the parable of the barren fig tree. [Luke 13:1-12 ]

The last study focused on cross cultural respect and reconciliation in church and society. Our group shared our youthful intercultural experiences. Don made friends with local Ngai Tahu at Moeraki and sustained a connection over a decade of Christmas holidays. Another group member was prevented from contact with a Māori family in the neighbourhood by her parents; the Chinese were subjects of fun and ridicule. 

The passage where Jesus honours the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7) demonstrates how Jesus changes his ethno-centric stance to heal the daughter of a Gentile woman. Jesus shows that inheriting bias is inevitable, but holding on to it is a choice.

By Don Rowlands