missed this week's printable happening? this is where you'll find articles from 'the back page' – replete with little nuggets of wisdom. go on, get reading!

I recently gave a lecture at a graduate college and was struck by the words of a student there. He was wondering aloud whether we can say anything with much certainty as Christians. Given that previous generations have so often got it wrong on issues like race and gender, how could we be sure we’re not falling into the same mistakes on different issues? It’s a sobering question and one that should give us plenty of humility as we seek to make our way in our faith.

But it’s also a question that gives way to a more assured answer. Responding to this sort of uncertainty, theologian Stanley Hauerwas observed that “we don’t know everything, but we have enough to go on.” Our faith is a bit like marriage. There is a certain naiveté about standing in church in our relative youth and making grave promises about a shared but unknown future. Much complex uncertainty lies ahead, but in our love for each other we have enough to make a start.

So what do we have to go on in our faith? In a word, it’s the Incarnation. Rather than our faith consisting of abstract ideas and beliefs, like a philosophical work or political manifesto, it has taken shape in human form—in the flesh and blood of Jesus’ body, in the rhythms of his life and teaching, and in the world-changing significance of his death, resurrection and ascension.

The Apostle Paul sums this up in his amazing description of Jesus in Colossians: “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end.”

So what does all this mean for us? Most significantly, although we can adhere to ideas, we can actually follow the person of Jesus. Just as Paul did before us, we can walk in his footsteps and model our own lives on his. In Jesus, the invisible God becomes visible. So there is at least something very right about the impulse behind the “WWJD” movement and ones like it. In Jesus we see God in the flesh, working out His purposes in the world.

The student in my lecture was right, in part. God in His wisdom has not shown us everything, but He has given us enough to go on, and He’s given us each day as a field to play on. One day we will see in full, and until then we see in part. In the revelation of Scripture, in the community of the church, in the breaking of bread, and through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, the invisible God is made visible in our lives.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 23 June 2017 st pauls

One of the challenges of being a man is that when searching for things in cupboards, sheds, or on the kitchen bench, what we’re looking for can be right in front of us but still physically invisible. It’s known as the legendary “man-look”; a legitimate gender disability which we can’t possibly be blamed for.

The same can be said of aspects of our faith as followers of Christ. The sorts of things we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, for instance, are so audacious that they can easily feel disconnected from the practical hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and so fade into our background consciousness. And yet it is these astounding convictions about true reality, human identity and the destiny of the world, that breathe transforming life into the things we do everyday—the vocational contexts we travel in, whether in our families, jobs, studies, and other pursuits. Genesis 2, Psalm 8 and Isaiah 61, for instance, infuse everything we do with divine and eternal purpose, even those things that seem mundane or insignificant. God’s calling is often hidden in plain sight within the contexts and conversations of our daily lives.

This week as a church we’ve raised over $15,000 to ease the bleak daily experience of Syrian refugees. Seen in one way, it’s a mere drop in an ocean of need. But seen from the perspective of heaven, this is a spring of generosity poured into God’s redemptive mission in the world, bringing joy and hope to real people. So thank you St Paul’s!

One of our greatest challenges as Christians in a secular world is keeping our vision fixed upon the greater story that we’re part of. That is, the bold conviction that Christ is Lord over all creation and is bringing all things under his rule; that we already live in that future age made present. The incredible hope of the Christian message is that everything we do in God’s name, whether it’s overtly spiritual or not, is swept up into this future. Put another way, none of what we sow into this kingdom will be lost.

This vision gives huge significance to everything we do—our training and education, our acts of love and compassion, those all-nighters nursing sick children, advocating for the dispossessed, and our care for God’s creation. As Chris Clark from World Vision said last Sunday, the key is that we are not called to bear the burden of changing the world, but simply to join in with God’s mission to save and restore His world.

C.S. Lewis sums this all up in Mere Christianity: “A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in"; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 16 June 2017 st pauls

Our perspective on things is decisive for how we approach and travel in the world. For instance, whether it’s been a good week for the Lions tour depends a lot on which side of the fence you stand. And whether Jimmy Spithill is a good guy depends a lot on which boat you want to win.

Along these lines, Eugene Peterson makes an insightful observation about how we tend to see things as modern people. In relation to our faith, for instance, our scientific paradigm tends to treat any mystery as uncertainty to be clarified and made certain through sharp-lined description. If we can just solve the mystery then everything else will fall into place. And yet the most important aspects of Christian belief terminate in paradox. Who can fully explain the divine trinity, or the incarnation, or what embodied life in the Age to come will be like? Yet, as Peterson says, our faith does not present complex problems to be solved, but rich mysteries to be entered into and explored. Even in the fruition of that future age, we will never reach the end of our understanding of who God is.

For me Peterson’s insight also provided a pastoral epiphany. Forming an authentic community of faith is a messy business and it can feel, at times, like people are complicated problems needing to be fixed. This never-ending slog ultimately creates an unbearable burden for those involved. Peterson helpfully flips this perspective on its head, so that becoming part of a community of faith is less like solving a murder mystery and more like admiring the pattern of an intricate Persian rug. It is our joy to enter into the unfolding mystery of relationships as we enable the Spirit to bring transformation in each of our lives. Just like that Persian rug, this brings coherence to the complexity of our community rather than simplifying it!

The same is true as we look across our world. One perspective would be to see endemic chaos, corruption and violence, and to throw our hands in the air or to engage in mission as an act of defiance. But it’s here where the divine lens gives us a radically different perspective, which brings with it hope and energy for mission. As Tom Wright says, the central message of the Gospels is not to prove that Jesus is God but to show that, in Jesus, God has become king of the world. His peaceable kingdom has come in power and one day we will see His rule throughout the whole of creation. Although we don’t always see the evidence of this on the surface of things, every act of generous love we make is sowing seeds into this eternal and unshakable kingdom.

I’m proud that St Paul’s is such a generous community and actively engaged in God’s mission in the world. As we highlight missions this month, I hope you can take this opportunity to sow more seeds of generosity into the great work going out from this community.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 09 June 2017 st pauls

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in the same place. Suddenly from heaven came a sound of a strong, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared tongues of fire, distributed among them so that one settled on each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)

Nothing sets kiwi hearts racing like the haka before a big game, especially when it’s against a Lions team full of muscle and bravado. This pre-match ritual conjures up a heady cocktail of pride, memories and anticipation of what’s to come.

The Day of Pentecost plays a similar role for us as followers of Christ, but with a twist. For those first believers, it was a reminder of God’s ancient faithfulness to his people, as it marked the beginning of the harvest each year — “the day of the firstfruits” (Num 28:26). The Pentecost described in Acts gives this festival powerful new meaning, fulfilling an old promise and providing a new beginning.

The Prophet Joel saw a time when God would pour out His Spirit on all humanity, releasing Spirit-inspired prophesies, dreams and visions among the people. More recently John the Baptist had foretold that the Coming One would baptise with wind and fire. The Pentecost described by Luke in Acts truly was “the day of the firstfruits,” when God filled His people with divine inspiration and heralded the beginning of the harvest to end all harvests.

When the current crop of All Blacks pull on their shirts and perform the haka later this month, they’re carrying both memories of the past and hopes for the future. In fact, you could say it’s the memories that give power to the hopes they carry. When I think of the rushing wind and tongues of fire coming upon those early believers, it reminds me a bit of the haka. As Christians Pentecost is our living history; it’s a present reminder of who we are and where we’ve come from. That we are a radical people filled and united by the Spirit of God to take up our part in His mission in the world.

And here’s the twist. The haka is a war dance but Pentecost marks the beginning of God’s peaceable kingdom. Whereas the Tower of Babel marked the enduring conflict and division between people as symbolised through their different languages, at Pentecost God unites people through His one Spirit, and this unity is expressed through a diversity of languages — different tongues but all praising God.

Pentecost is a beautiful, radical and powerful living memory of who we are as followers of Christ and it’s also an expression of what we seek to become as his church here at St Paul’s.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 02 June 2017 st pauls

Late on Monday evening the world stopped for dozens of young concertgoers in Manchester and their families and friends as a suicide bomber blew himself up among the revelers. It was a sudden and shocking reminder that there is something very wrong with our world, a perennial dark streak that refuses to go away. When we are capable of so much good how can we explain what happened on Monday night?

Over the years philosophers have come to radically different views about what lies at the heart of humanity and the cultures we create. Thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and Machiavelli painted a bleak portrait of people pitted against each other in endless rivalry and conflict, while German thinkers like Kant and Hegel envisioned the steady evolution of humankind towards a sort of heaven on earth.

In between these polar extremes of fatalism and fantasy, the Gospel presents a sort of Realistic Idealism. It faces square on the honest reality of who we are, but it also offers a journey of unimaginable hope. The key to unlocking the power of the Gospel in our lives is to understand the story we’re in, and to let it shape our whole reality. It involves knowing who we are, where we’ve come from and where we are going.

A few years ago in the US a couple of psychologists noticed an amazing link between how much kids knew about their families and their emotional health. Even having a basic knowledge of their family history and origins seemed to make a difference — it gave them a firm basis for their emerging identity and increased their resilience. Knowing where their grandparents and parents came from, how they met, some of the difficult experiences their family had made it through gave them a firm foundation on which to stand. The healthiest family story turned out to be the “oscillating family narrative,” which essentially said we’ve been through some challenges as a family but we always get through it and stick together.

It’s a great reminder as a church of the power of our ‘family’ story to shape our identity and to give us confidence for the journey ahead. One of our defining stories is that we are Pentecost People, meaning that we share in the legacy of that day when God breathed new life into a rag-tag group of followers and gave them a world-changing purpose.

One of the most distinctive features of that first Pentecost community is that they became a close-knit ‘family,’ united by their experience and love of God. It’s why we believe it’s so important for all of us to find places of deeper relationship at St Paul’s where we get to share our stories of God’s faithfulness with each other and go on the journey together. So if you want to host or lead a group, or find an existing one, talk to Lex & Barb or email them at barbara@stpauls.org.nz.

Blessings,
Jonny

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The Back Page | 26 May 2017 st pauls

Stories have so much power because they resonate on a human frequency. They are the landing place where truth becomes real — where it takes on flesh and blood. Our lives are unfolding stories, and so it’s no surprise that for the Creator to pursue intimacy with His creation, the Word would need to become flesh. The genius of the Gospels is that they land the unimaginable truths of God’s plan for creation in the messy details of real people’s lives. Instead of scientific formulas or pristine theology, God’s Kingdom takes shape in and through imperfect people.

A few years ago Benedict Cumberbatch starred in the film “The Imitation Game.” It told the story of the introverted mathematician Alan Turing who broke the Nazi Enigma Code in WWII and became the “father of computing.” Turing’s early life reveals an awkward kid growing up, bullied and isolated by his boarding-school peers. He seems destined for a lonely and non-descript life. Yet his one friend at school says something that takes root and becomes Turing’s guiding principle. He says: “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.” And so it was. Through his improbable work, Turing swung the destiny of nations and birthed a new field of technology.

This is also the guiding theme of the Gospels — that through God’s empowering presence, He engages normal people to do remarkable things for the glory of His kingdom. As Luke says in the Book of Acts, He does this “To witness to the mighty works of God.” The first leader of the early church, Simon Peter, is a clarion example of this and a model for us. An average person from a backwater province, Peter became one of the most prominent people in history. But what happened to this raw and impulsive fisherman that made the difference?

On Easter Sunday the risen Jesus ushers in a New Age. As this new reality dawns, it’s like a crisp, clear May morning, when white light throws everything into sharp focus. And although Peter isn’t physically resurrected like Jesus, in a sense he is birthed into a whole new existence and way of being. What’s most challenging and inspiring about Peter’s story is that it reveals God’s great compassion for us. Although Alan Turing was an unlikely hero, he still possessed a uniquely powerful intellect, well beyond most of our reach. But, in choosing Peter as the leader of his fledgling church, Jesus chose someone like us, someone who reflects our own struggles and frailties. You could say that in choosing Peter, Jesus has chosen us. He’s spoken over us (like Peter): “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of, who (through God’s empowering presence) do the things that no one can imagine.”

Through Peter’s story Jesus cuts a path on which we can all travel. The question is do we have the courage like Peter to go where the journey leads us?

Blessings,
Jonny

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The Back Page | 19 May 2017 st pauls

Psalm 68 says: “The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host.” It seems fitting today, as we thank Jennie Milne for her great service to St Paul’s, to quote from the Psalms. They are the passion of Jennie’s life and they sum up her exuberance for who God is and the adventure He’s called us into.

It’s all too easy amidst the heavy burden of church ministry to lose sight of why we do this in the first place, and what makes it all possible, which is the love and power of God’s Spirit. But one of the most inspiring things about Jennie is that she always travels with God close at her side. She lives, as Eugene Peterson says, in a “Psalm-shaped world,” constantly turning life and ministry back into prayer and encouragement. In the words of the Psalmist she is always announcing the good news of God, and she is also a great host!

Which brings us to the second thing we love about Jennie. As many of us within the staff team and congregation can witness to, Jennie’s generosity and encouragement know no bounds. Even in her busiest times, she seems to have endless space to show care and support for other people. Ever since we arrived from Vancouver three years ago, Jennie has been a constant source of hospitality and reassurance for us personally, but also a strong leader guiding her team through the changes and challenges of the last season. So we’re thankful for her energy and joy, which are infectious.

Of course, as the old saying goes (or should have gone): “behind every great woman there’s a great man”! Scottie and Jennie are pillars of our church, and they’re an inspiring example of a couple ministering together as a powerful team. So, we’re very aware that although Jennie has been on our staff team, Scottie has also been a constant presence with her, delivering courses, encouraging our families team, and sitting on Vestry. We’re looking forward to all they have to offer St Paul’s in the years to come.

Jennie has achieved a huge amount in her five years since taking up the reigns of the families team. Everything she does is fired by a passion to see relationships, families and children flourish. We’re thankful for all the ministry areas and initiatives she’s built up over that time, but especially for the strong staff team she leaves behind. We’re praying today for Jennie as she oversees the challenging transition of her parents into managed care in Christchurch, and the words of Psalm 91 shape those prayers:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 05 May 2017 st pauls

We find ourselves involved in so many different things these days that it’s hard to keep track of it all. A large part of our brains are taken up just juggling the dozens of passwords we need for various online subscriptions, which seem to be constantly changing. It raises the question: given that we’re connected to so many things, what does it mean to really belong to something?
It’s in this context that Anzac weekend reminds us how precious our communities are and the enormous sacrifices that have gone into protecting them. Today we remember those people across the generations who gave up their own future so that we might have one.
Along similar lines, the Book of Nehemiah provides a beautiful picture of what it means to belong to and fight for a community of people gathered by God. At the start of the story Nehemiah is working for the Babylonian ruler King Ataxerxes when he receives God’s clarion call to rebuild the broken down walls of Jerusalem. Incredibly his foreign boss blesses this mission and sends Nehemiah to restore the ruined city. This begins a rollicking adventure, which sees the dispirited squatters in Jerusalem rebuild their city walls in 52 days, despite constant threats from their neighbors. As Nehemiah says to the Israelites at one point: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
This improbable project was made possible because each family and group worked side-by-side along the unbroken length of the wall, united and unflinching in their common purpose. They literally formed a human wall as they rebuilt the stone one. Anzac weekend, like the Nehemiah story, reminds us of those who were united in a common purpose and protected our community with great courage and at huge personal cost.
It also reminds us of the church, and what it means to belong to this community of faith. An important part of the Nehemiah story is the recording of all the exiled families that returned to the city, 42,360 in all. Recently, our church community showed great solidarity and common purpose by giving generously to the ministry of St Paul’s at a time when we needed to repair the walls of our finances which had been recently damaged. It was such a strong response that we even exceeded the ambitious target we set ourselves! Another way we belong to this community is by keeping records of who we are as a collective group. So, just like those ancient Israelites, we’re taking a St Paul’s Census, which allows us to keep reliable records so that we can communicate more effectively with the church. But more than just record keeping, it gives us a clear picture of the human wall of protection that surrounds this church—in New Testament language, the living stones of this temple of the Holy Spirit.
As we remember the brave people who made our larger community possible, it’s a perfect opportunity to recommit ourselves to this church by signing on as part of our upcoming Census later this week.
Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 21 April 2017 st pauls

The pilgrims waving Jesus into Jerusalem on the eve of their biggest party were full of expectation for the future drawn from the past. Passover was the Big One, the time when Jews remembered God rescuing their ancestors out of Egyptian slavery, drowning its Superpower army, and setting God’s people on the path to the Promised Land. And God was about to do it again.

Fast-forward a few days to a darker scene beneath the Cross, on the first Good Friday. The soldiers threw dice for Jesus’s tunic because it was a valuable garment, made from one seamless piece of fabric (John 19:23-24). Their wager is a powerful image for what Easter represents for all of us, ushered in by the high expectations of Palm Sunday. As Jesus enters the Holy City of David, there’s an outburst of praise that reflects the huge anticipation of what he will become — the true king who will “make Israel great again” (heard that recently?). The last person who rode into Jerusalem to an adoring crowd waving palm branches was the revolutionary hero Judas Maccabeus, who threw the Syrian King out of the sacred Temple two centuries before Jesus.

On that humble donkey Jesus carried centuries of prophetic and nationalistic expectation. The pilgrims cheering him on that day wanted political independence — the freedom to rule themselves. But by reaching so low they missed the greater prize that the true king had his eye on — nothing short of emancipating humanity from the ravages of sin and death. Just like that festive crowd a few days earlier, the Roman soldiers squabbling over Jesus’s tunic at the foot of the Cross are a bit like the children in that famous wardrobe arguing over which coat to wear, when the greater adventure of Narnia lies a few feet away — the invitation to rule with the Lion himself.

The Cross and the Christian life could be described as the glorious frustration of human expectations. Richard Bauckham puts it like this: “There is no smooth path to God which we can ascend with all our expectations of life confirmed and fulfilled. There is only the way of the cross, where the condemned and crucified Jesus contradicts our expectations, forces us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we would like to be seen, and reveals the world as a strange new landscape we had not seen before, a paradoxical game in which only losers can succeed.”

The mystery at the heart of Easter is that the Lion of Judah must die before he can breathe life into death. The same can be said of our lives. We, too, must go on the journey of Easter — to have our low expectations gloriously frustrated, so that we might find our way through the back of the wardrobe into the vast expanse of God’s reality beyond; a world that our weak imaginations need the jolt of Easter to enter into.

As the bright sun of Palm Sunday gives way to the darkness of Good Friday, what expectations or fantasies might need to follow the Lion into the tomb? May this mystery gloriously frustrate and fulfill you this Easter.

See you on Friday!
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 06 April 2017 st pauls

When I was at high school I used to run middle distance — mainly 800m and 1500m. I had a “love-hate” relationship with the sport; racing was an adrenalin-fueled buzz, but the training was hard and pushing your body to its limits was painful. But there’s a sound from those days that I’ll never forget, which was the bell for the final lap. At that moment, you were always faced with a big decision, either to give it away and ease the burning in your lungs and legs, or to lean in and leave everything on the track. I’m happy to say I never chose the first option, but it was always hugely tempting at the time!

Last Sunday in our morning services I spoke about the many ministry and missional opportunities we have as a church, particularly new plans to equip and empower our people for life and ministry. I also described a very specific challenge that we face right now. Over the last six months a group of former leaders and congregants at St Paul’s have formed a new worship gathering nearby. When a number of people leave the church all at the same time like this, it has some knock-on effects for our congregation. One obvious result is that this group has taken their financial contribution with them, which has left a gap in our finances of around $125,000 over the course of the year. As I described last Sunday, we have met this challenge by cutting our costs and running on a tight shift as a staff team.

Recently Esther spoke about God calling and leading the Joshua generation of God’s people into the land He had promised them under Moses. What we find throughout Scripture, and in our own experience, is that God’s opportunities often come with a challenge. For the Israelites, the land was already inhabited and most of their scouts were tempted to exaggerate this challenge into an insurmountable wall. But faith requires strength and courage.

Last week I invited us as a community of faith to see our current financial challenge as an opportunity for God to move us into the things He’s prepared for us. I set the target of raising $150,000 of new giving over these two Sundays. I felt that it was important to articulate that specific figure and to reach it together. Although it’s an ambitious goal, like a giant tug-of-war if we all grasp the rope and lean into it, it becomes easily achievable.

I want to thank all of you who responded to this bold call to bless, protect and grow our church. We had an incredible response last Sunday morning with over 70 people raising around $100,000 from just two services. That’s a huge level of participation and was a big encouragement to us. Thank you!

Returning to my teenage track experience, we’ve reached the exhilarating challenge of the “bell lap.” We’ve done most of the hard work, but the finish line remains ahead. The one event I always looked forward to in the track season was the relay meet. There was something inspiring and emboldening about sharing the challenge and spreading the weight within a team who were giving everything they had for each other. Church is more like a team relay than an individual race. So I want to invite those of you who have not yet taken up the baton, to bring us home in style this week as we seek to raise our target of $150,000 and take the church forward into its future.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 30 March 2017 st pauls

In the 1970’s a “Biblical Garden” was planted on St Paul’s northern side, which was filled with palms, figs, olives, and even a cedar of Lebanon! It expresses the vision of St Paul’s as a garden planted by God in the heart of our city, and it’s an idea that finds its origins in the story of Scripture.

In the Book of Genesis two rival images of human life emerge. First, we see God’s vision of life established within the fruitful productivity of Eden—the original garden. A little later, a very different form of human existence takes shape in Pharaoh’s Egypt. Whereas Eden was animated by God’s abundance, Egypt was dominated by Pharaoh’s nightmare of famine-induced scarcity. Under Joseph’s guidance, Egypt’s people are progressively enslaved, trading food in stages for their livestock, their land, and ultimately their own freedom.

In many ways the ancient imagery of Genesis accurately reflects our own life in a bustling modern city like Auckland. The theologian J. I. Packer describes the Christian life as a journey through contested territory, in the space between the Creator and the Corrupter. Put another way, we live in the tension between Eden and Egypt—God’s provision versus self-reliance and the fear of scarcity. We’re privileged to live in a beautiful vibrant city like Auckland, but it also poses challenges to our journey of faith. We can become caught up in the creeping anxiety of how to sustain life and keep progressing in a competitive city that is among the world’s most expensive.

It’s within this challenging context that Jesus’s call to worship God with everything we have blows like a fresh breeze from Eden. And it's here where we need to acknowledge that our finances are heavily contested territory. But they also provide us with a powerful opportunity to express our faith in God’s provision, while blessing others. Scot McKnight calls this the “reciprocity of grace … God gives to us so that we can become grace to others.” Tom Wright puts it this way:

“Don’t let the parodies put you off. The habit of giving, of giving generously, is not an extra option for keen Christians … because our whole calling is to reflect God the creator, and the main thing we know about this true God is that his very nature is self-giving, generous love. The reason why “God loves a cheerful giver” is that that’s what God himself is like. Someone like that is a person after God’s own heart. Making a regular, formal and public practice of giving money is designed to generate the habit of heart which forms a key part of what is meant by agape love.”

So, today I want to thank you for what you give to this community of faith and the Kingdom of God through St Paul’s, and also to welcome you into that adventure if you are not currently giving. What this church does is only possible because of your generosity. So why not grab a giving card today and get involved?

Our ultimate future lies in the “Garden City”—the New Jerusalem. This will be a place where God’s presence and provision permeates all of human life. Just as rivers flowed out from Eden giving life to everything beyond its boundaries, St Paul’s is built atop one of the natural springs that used to flow down what is now Queen Street. Our vision for St Paul’s is that it would be a spiritual Garden offering hospitality, hope and restoration, and that its rivers of life would flow out into and bless our City as a taste of the New Jerusalem in the bustling heart of Auckland.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 23 March 2017 st pauls

The journey of faith is full of mystery and paradox. One of my favourite scenes from Scripture is in 1 Samuel when an exhausted David, on the run from the murderous King Saul, finds himself holed up in a dark cave at Adullam. It’s here that David composes Psalm 142, which ends with these desperate but hopeful words: “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.”

God always hears and answers our prayers, but not always in the way we expect Him to. David receives one of these unexpected answers to his prayer. We’re told in 1 Samuel 22:2 that: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.” David inherits a rag-tag bunch, which Eugene Peterson describes as those “who were down on their luck—losers and vagrants and misfits of all sorts.” I doubt this is what David meant when he prayed that the “righteous” would join him. But this rabble became David’s Mighty Men, a group that became famous throughout Israel for their courage. What a beautiful scene and how typical of God!

Last Sunday I spoke about the frustration we often feel when God colours outside the lines we draw for him, working outside of our plans and timeframes. But the reality is that we follow the One who created the cosmos and everything in it—the One who sees the bigger picture and knows what lies ahead. Like David’s prayer in the Cave of Adullam, God often brings answers out of unexpected places so that we might know that He is God and find new reasons to believe. And like those ‘down-and-out’ guys who were transformed into an invincible fighting unit, we often find our purpose and answer “on the way.” Not stuck in a world of sustained introspection, but as we courageously step out into serving God and others.

One of the mysteries and paradoxes of our faith is that God often meets our needs out of our own generosity. But that inevitably takes courage! When Jesus first announced his ministry, he held up an obscure widow from the Old Testament as an example of faith. She and her son were on the brink of starvation when the prophet Elijah asked for her last ounce of oil and flour. Imagine how hard it must’ve been to give that last meal to a stranger instead of her own son! Yet out of her courageous generosity, God miraculously fed her family during three years of drought.

As a pastor, I’m most inspired by the stories of people at St Paul’s who respond creatively, courageously and generously out of their own needs. You never know, just like David in that dark cave, your needs may end up being a blessing to countless others. So where is God inviting you to see your places of lack as an opportunity to be “strong and very courageous” today?

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 17 March 2017 st pauls

When we lived in the UK, I entered the world of football hooliganism with a group of friends in southwest London. Over 10 wintry seasons we saw some amazing players, witnessed some historic games, and enjoyed some fine pork belly and ale during our customary pre-match ritual. For a few years our team was coached by an imperious Italian called Claudio Ranieri, who became known as “the Tinkerman” for his quirky (and unpopular) team selections. Two years ago he took over an unfancied team called Leicester City, who were odds-on favorites to be relegated at the end of the season. Instead, without any big-name players, Leicester romped to victory in the English Premiership in what’s been described as the greatest ever sporting achievement. At the start of the season they were literally 5,000-1 outsiders to win the title.      

These “rise of the underdog” stories resonate deep within us and the Bible is packed full of them too. From beginning to end Scripture is the story of God bringing about His improbable kingdom through an unlikely people. Even Israel’s most famous King—David—wasn’t even included in the initial interviews by his Father Jesse … thanks Dad! And there’s a point to it all. When we become bearers of God’s unmistakable presence, we bring glory to Him. We bear witness to divine power rather than human prowess.

People often ask me what our vision is for St Paul’s. So here it is. When Jesus announces the beginning of his own ministry in Luke 4, he borrows and adapts a famous passage from Isaiah 61. In this vision the prophet paints a picture of God releasing and restoring his people—the oppressed, mourners, prisoners, captives and the broken-hearted. Jesus adds a few of his own to intensify the vision—good news for the poor and sight for the blind.

It’s a stunning picture of new creation, but the radical key to Isaiah’s vision is one that we can easily miss. It’s not the trained priests who carry out the restoration work while the people watch on, it’s the people themselves who express these ministries of restoration and rebuilding. It’s a two-part movement: God renews His people so that they can carry his kingdom forward. The apostle Peter describes how Jesus disperses God’s kingdom, flattening its power structures, by establishing a “royal priesthood” which is made up of everyone in the church, young and old, beginner and ‘expert’.

Our vision for St Paul’s is that this church will be a place where each of us discovers and explores the work that God has called us to and anointed us for; that each of us will find our distinctive role within the intricate body of Christ here at St Paul’s. That will be a messy journey at times, for sure, but if the body never tried to move then where would be the sense of adventure. There are things to do and places to see!

Blessings

Rev Jonny Grant      

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The Back Page | 10 March 2017 st pauls

One of the downsides of tv box-sets is that they draw you into their orbit, immersing you in a world of characters that become like family, and then one day they drop you off in a post-finale wilderness, leaving you bereft and listless! Excuse the melodrama but we’ve just finished “Friday Night Lights,” which follows the lives of a Texas high school football coach and his family. Although the premise sounds unpromising, it’s been magnetic for us because it’s such an insightful take on life, people and the complexity of human communities. I’m sure it was written by a church pastor!

That’s also why the gospels have stayed so fresh down through the ages. The central character is pretty magnetic, but it’s also about the razor sharp observations the gospel writers make about how people respond to Jesus. These stories have the fragrance of authenticity about them—this is the way people are—and they teach us about our own journey of faith. One of the most dramatic examples of this is the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. 

This story shows the constant wrestle between Jesus’ way of working and people’s expectations of him. It’s almost farcical. It begins with Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary sending Jesus urgent news of his serious illness, but Jesus decides to wait. Then, 2 days later, he gets ready to go to Lazarus, but his disciples challenge him because the Jews in that area have just tried to stone him. Next, Jesus returns to the sisters during their brother’s “wake” and they rebuke him with the words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”! Then, when Jesus tells them to roll away the stone, Martha tries to talk him out of it because of the smell after 4 days. Even when Lazarus walks out of the tomb, there’s a mixed reaction! Although many believe in Jesus after this sign, there’s another crowd that tell the religious leaders who immediately (and ironically) start planning his death. 

We can fall for the temptation of thinking that everything would be simple if Jesus was with us in the flesh. But even his closest followers in the gospels cover him in a dense forest of projected expectations and disappointments. These sisters who know that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, don’t seem to believe that Jesus could revive him. We are complex creatures! Doesn’t this all sound a bit too familiar though? Jesus has called us into his resurrection life and yet we often find ourselves resisting his ways of working, his timing, and bending his power into our limited range of expectations.   

The essence of the Christian life is that Jesus has called us into the “first-fruits” of the new creation. And yet we still find parts of our lives, our ministries, and our relationships that are lifeless and starting to smell like those old grave-clothes. We can find ourselves saying, like those sisters, “Jesus if only you had been here earlier, I wouldn’t be in this state.” But we forget that Jesus is not just a physician, he is resurrection! So what does he need to bring back to life for you today?

Blessings,

Rev Jonny Grant


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The Back Page | 02 March 2017 st pauls

n the Old Testament there are two archetypical, and quite different contexts, that Israel came to associate with God’s presence – the Tabernacle and the Temple. During their wilderness wanderings, God gives Israel instructions for a holy tent in which God would travel with His people, moving from one place to the next. Wherever they went, God went with them. Later, once Israel was settled in the land, Solomon famously built the Temple in the holy city, which became the ‘permanent’ dwelling place of God.  

Borrowing these two images, by analogy, brings into focus what Andy has been to St Paul’s. Within an established context like St Paul’s, familiar patterns, rhythms, traditions and ministries tend to become like the solid walls of the temple – permanent, immovable and irreplaceable. They are the life-giving places where we have experienced God with us and so they become precious. But they can also eventually become places of stasis, where we get bogged down or miss the new direction that God is taking us. When I think about Andy, I am reminded most of the Tabernacle – the meeting place between God and his people, which remained dynamic and responsive to new places and new directions.

Andy has been a creative leader in the best sense of the word – full of vision and ideas, but combining that with openness to God’s leading. He has been at the heart of so many of the ministries and initiatives at St Paul’s over the last 8 years, including Worship Central, GLOW and the worship albums God with Us and Creation’s King, to name just a few. But, even more importantly, he has been sensitive to the wind-shifts at various points and so able to set his sails in a new direction. A great example of that has been the development of Alt Carols as a fresh way of re-telling the Christmas story. Like his own hairstyles over the years, Andy has been able to move with the times and live well within them. 

But here’s the twist. There’s also a way that Andy has been more like the Temple than the Tabernacle. We often judge a leader by how we experience them when they’re with us. But, actually, the true test of leadership is what leaders leave once they’ve gone. Andy has been a great leader among us over these last 8 years. But the enduring testimony to his leadership is what he leaves behind – more like those solid Temple walls than tent canvas. Andy leaves behind a mature and thriving worship team and in Chris a leader who can lead them and us into the next adventure. So, we want to thank Andy for his incredible season at St Paul’s. Just like Israel’s ancient worship spaces, Andy has helped to shape a context in which we have experienced God with us. Thanks Andy – we will miss you!

Blessings,

Rev Jonny Grant 

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The Back Page | 24 February 2017 st pauls

This week we made an historic discovery. The original hand drawn plans for the third St Paul’s building – dating from 1893 by architect William Henry Skinner – have been lost for as long as anyone can remember. The Diocesan Archive had concluded that they had likely gone back to the UK with the Welsh architect, hence their disappearance from the records.

Before Christmas I mentioned the missing plans to historian Earle Howe, who’d come across them years ago in an antiquarian bookshop on High Street. It was our only lead and two weeks ago Simeon (who shares a love of history) and I resolved to track them down. My email enquiry to the bookshop went unanswered but soon after Jonny attended an evening at the Venn Foundation and sat next to a man who had spent some time studying in Oxford. Over dinner he mentioned that he and his wife had attended St Paul’s a long time ago and that Jonny might be interested to know that a friend who had also spent time in the UK had some architectural drawings of St Paul’s on his study wall.

There have been lots of plans drawn over the years for not only the three St Paul’s buildings (Emily Place, the temporary church at Eden Terrace and the final St Paul’s on Symonds Street), but also for various changes to the building. There were no guarantees that these plans would be for the current building.

This week I met the couple, who have since moved back to New Zealand. To my joy I discovered that the stunning plans they fell in love with 25 years ago in that antiquarian bookshop on High Street are indeed the full and original plans for our beautiful church! There are four large pages dated ‘1893’, each backed with linen, which have hand drawn elevations and details for the North, South, East and West. 

The discovery of the plans is invaluable to the future restoration work, as there are several parts of the building that have been significantly altered over the past 122 years and many more that were never completed. The current owners were delighted to know what a treasure these are for our church and have given them to us on loan so that we can have them professionally scanned and replicated for our use.
Framed copies will be gracing our church walls soon!
 
Blessings,

Esther Grant

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The Back Page | 09 February 2017 st pauls

Last Sunday, our Anglican lectionary fell upon the prophet Isaiah’s divinely-uttered poetry in Isaiah 65. This stunning book is often called the “5th gospel” because it so clearly anticipates what would unfold in Jesus and the New Testament. Through Isaiah, God expresses our future hope that all will be well: “Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy.” This picture of “new heavens and a new earth” is especially comforting after a traumatising week of earthquakes and aftershocks across the country.

With Advent just around the corner, we’re reminded that we have a foretaste of Isaiah’s future hope right now and that God is on the journey with us, like a proud parent filled with both joy and grief as we experience the ups and downs of the present age. The same goes for our life as the church, the heavenly-community-in-training.

This week you would’ve received letters from Bishop Ross and our Vestry, drawing to a close a process that began at the beginning of the year and was referred to at our AGM in May. For me personally, these last few years have been the best of times and the worst of times. The confidential and sensitive nature of the processes referred to in the statements has required me to remain silent in the face of the stories that have swirled around, which has been a deeply painful and complex journey for both Esther and I. At the same time there has been the great pleasure of leading a church that is so full of energy and life, and I’m constantly staggered by the incredible people we have in our staff team and congregation.

I am also profoundly sad that some people within our community have felt the need to move on from St Paul’s in the wake of this season. Our vision has always been for reconciliation rather than rupture. We wish this group well in their new gathering and pray that God will bless them richly with the new hope Isaiah describes. The statements from the Bishop and Vestry effectively draw to a close this prolonged chapter of transition and we now look ahead to building on the blessed foundation we have at St Paul’s. Leading the church through such a challenging season has been a steep learning curve for me — one full of lessons that I’ve had to learn the hard way.

When Esther and I first felt called to come to St Paul’s, God planted a strong vision within us that this church would become a deeply relational community. That we would walk with conviction into the call to be a spiritual family and the intimately connected body of Christ. This remains a challenging vision for a fast-flowing city church that is always changing. But it’s a journey that I want to invite you into afresh in this coming year. The Apostle Paul, consciously echoing Isaiah’s words, says: “When someone is in Christ, look, the new creation has come!” It is our challenge and our inspiration to walk towards Isaiah’s vision of unrestrained joy in a future world where all is well. So today, as God encourages us to do: “Look ahead with joy.”

Blessings
Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 18 November 2016 st pauls

2016 will go down in history as a year of geopolitical shocks. First Brexit, then The Bachelor, and now a triumphant Trump. It’s a good time to take comfort from the fact that we don’t put our ultimate trust in earthly kings and their fleeting reigns. As I watched this week’s election with a mixture of fascination and disbelief, I couldn’t help but wonder if Donald Trump hadn’t stacked the deck all along, by filling American cities with huge glimmering monuments to his power and success in the form of the Trump Towers. Like King Nebuchadnezzar before him, they are powerful visual advertisements for a man who postures to rule the world.

But aside from all this, one thing that’s always impressed me deeply about American elections is the incredible number of people who passionately engage in the political process and volunteer their time and energy to the causes they believe in. Something was birthed into the American spirit that still lingers there—a belief in service, commitment and sacrifice—essentially Christian virtues.

It reminds me of the “beating heart” of our church too, which is those of you who work so hard to keep this church going in and out of season. The Spirit gives breath to the body of Christ, the church, but it’s our volunteers who keep that body moving. I’m filled with admiration and relief every Sunday morning, especially during the depths of winter, when I walk into a freezing church to see a group of volunteers already preparing for the long day ahead. What motivates these people to give their time so early in the morning within a building that’s impersonating a fridge-freezer? It’s just one of countless examples I could give from throughout the week.

On Friday night we celebrated and thanked our volunteer leaders at a private St Paul’s showing of Hacksaw Ridge, a film that put faith, conviction and sacrifice in shockingly clear perspective. Last Sunday you responded generously to Esther’s invitation to financially support our church family. As a church funded by its own people, we live and breathe through your gifts of time and money, and we are truly blessed by the generous spirit that exists at St Paul’s.

In biblical times it was only the priests who worked on the Sabbath. By facilitating the worship life of God’s people, they helped to renew God’s creation and especially His image-bearers—us! As I see it, our volunteers are like those Sabbath-working priests. They work so that the whole body of Christ can be built up for the mission that Jesus has prepared for us.

So, brothers and sisters, please be upstanding and charge your glasses. I propose a toast to our tireless volunteer leaders—our beating heart; our Sabbath-working priests; and most importantly of all, our image-bearing reflections of Jesus himself. Be sure to thank them in person when you see them.

Blessings

Rev Jonny Grant

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The Back Page | 13 November 2016 st pauls

From the very beginning we humans were born into a wrestle of epic proportions. We were made by God to be like Him, and to look after the good creation he set us within. But we’ve always been tempted to put our trust in the things God made rather than God Himself. Even in that abundant Garden-gift—Eden—we put our trust in the tree and the serpent and ourselves, rather than the One who made them all.

Fast forward countless generations and we find ourselves in that same, age-old bind: Who will we trust? What will we invest in? This is heightened by the stressful economic reality of a city that seems too expensive to live in and strong competition for jobs and career opportunities. Even within the relative wealth of Auckland, we feel intense pressure to keep our lives and families financially afloat and safeguarded for the future. As they often do, trust and fear go hand in hand. Just look at the US Elections!

It’s within this context that the Gospel blows like a cleansing wind. It challenges us with that original question: Who will we trust? What will we invest in? The Gospel antidotes to the modern fear of scarcity are found in the form of joy, gratitude and generosity. Joy expresses that God holds our ultimate future in His hands, while gratitude keeps us firmly focused on the God who is the source of all good things. Our generosity turns these two gifts around and allows us to be like God by letting His abundance flow from us to others. Scot McKnight calls this the “reciprocity of grace … God gives to us so that we can become grace to others.” The New Testament vision of money is that we would express these three gifts within the church as the family of God and Christ’s body in the world.

I love the way Tom Wright puts it: “Don’t let the parodies put you off. The habit of giving, of giving generously, is not an extra option for keen Christians. It is absolutely obligatory on all – because our whole calling is to reflect God the creator, and the main thing we know about this true God is that his very nature is self-giving, generous love. The reason why “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7) is that that’s what God himself is like. Someone like that is a person after God’s own heart. Making a regular, formal and public practice of giving money is designed to generate the habit of heart which forms a key part of what is meant by agape love.” NT Wright, Virtue Reborn

So, today I want to thank you for what you give to this community of faith and the Kingdom of God through St Paul’s. What our church does is only possible because of your generosity, and the potential of what we’re planting here at St Paul’s excites me. After a long period of transition and change, we now have an opportunity to plan for the future and to start putting those plans into practice.

What makes us unique as followers of Jesus is that we believe in an Age beyond this one—a divine reality that shapes and gives significance to everything we do now. Our firm conviction is that what we sow into and through the church now will pay great dividends in the future—not just in our lifetime but in the Age to Come in a world without end. What better investment could you wish for?

Blessings
Jonny

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The Back Page | 04 November 2016 st pauls

I vividly remember when we first went to live in London in 1999. What was known as the “dotcom boom” had created a feeding frenzy of deals, and the big law firms were hungry for energetic young lawyers, which was the description I fit at the time. Entering those gargantuan firms was literally like walking into another world that you didn't need to leave—and often couldn't leave—for days at a time. Some firms even had their own restaurants, beds and gyms! It was a world designed to help you forget about any other reality or commitments you had outside its frantic walls.

We hear a lot these days about living in a “post-truth world” where reality is constructed by those with influence and access. A prominent feature of the recent US Presidential debates was the real-time “fact-checker,” which casually acknowledged that the highest public servants in the land treat truth like putty to be molded according to the desired message. But not much is new under the sun.

In the Gospels we see Jesus shaking up the perceived realities of his day—people’s views of what God was like and what made the world tick. Today we’re focusing on the moment in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus nears Jerusalem, where he’s about to complete his mission. As he reaches the final staging point near Jericho, the nature of the kingdom he is ushering in starts to crystalise, and it poses an uncomfortable challenge even to those who know him best. Jesus challenges them and us to see beyond the illusions of the world as we’re told it is, and to immerse ourselves in the unseen reality of God’s rule—the truest and most enduring reality of all. Human revolutions tend to displace one world with another by rejecting or destroying what already exists. Instead, Jesus mixes the reality of heaven into the present world to save it and restore it.

He gives us a model for how we can engage with our context today, by sowing the seeds of heaven into the world as we find it. Paul Sawrey talks a lot about our vision of being both “the church gathered and the church scattered,” and in mission we express God’s heart to rescue and restore the world. One of my great privileges as leader of St Paul’s is to have a front row seat to the many different ways we as a church are joining in with God’s mission in the world, both in NZ and to the ends of the earth. I’m constantly blown away by the energy, vision and leadership that exists in our congregation for mission. Whether it’s hosting international students throughout the week, supporting Nvader combat sex-trafficking in Thailand, the great work of Feed my Lambs in Kaitaia, our students helping the ultra-poor in Cambodia, Dianne Bailey’s work in the Philippines, the recent Concert for Congo aiding maternity care in that region, and our developing partnership with the Red Cross in support of refugee families in Auckland.

As a church we are stepping into Jesus’s call to plant seeds of the new world in the soil of the present one. If we’re not careful, we might even start a revolution!

Blessings,

Jonny

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The Back Page | 30 October 2016 st pauls

One of my privileges while studying at Regent College in Vancouver was to take some of the last courses ever taught by the great New Testament professor Gordon Fee, including the Book of Revelation (we win in the end!). Even in his 80’s he had the energy of a teenager and he taught with the passion of a fiery preacher, which made even the most technical classes spring to life. But the most enduring thing I learned from him was a little expression he used to say: “there’s no such thing as writing, only re-writing.”

His point was that nothing good ever begins in perfect form. Writing, like building a house, is a process with many different phases: first the creative thinking and drawing, then the roughing out, then the filling in, and then the polishing and refining. This was a truth that I had to learn over and over again in the writing of my own book. Almost everyday I’d need to recall and rehearse that simple wisdom: “there’s no such thing as writing, only re-writing.” And every time it released me from the arid striving for perfection in every sentence — it unlocked fresh creativity and freedom.

I’m hugely thankful to Gordon Fee because that wisdom is foundational to everything we do. What’s true of writing is also true of life and faith. It reflects the reality that we are all on a journey as followers of Jesus. Not yet the finished article, but in process. This gives permission for God’s freedom and creativity to be at play in our lives. It rescues us from the tyranny of perfection; that awful need to project a certain image, rather than the reality of what’s really going on. And that’s where the true meaning of what it means to be a community of faith comes into focus. It’s about developing relationships of intimacy and trust where we get to write and re-write, without the marker’s red pen hovering over the script of our lives.

The same is true for us as a church. It’s all too easy in the modern marketplace that competes for our attention with shiny new objects, to drift towards slick marketing and perfect services as if we will find redemption there. As the image of Jesus walking the dusty streets of the Gospels shows, the Spirit finds expression in the messy, honest reality of people’s lives, en-Spirited and always “on the way.” Our vision is not to be a tidy sort of church at St Paul’s, it’s to be a welcoming and authentic place where people can find home.

So today I encourage you to seize upon that great spiritual truth that in life, as well as in church, there’s no such thing as writing, only re-writing.

Blessings
Jonny

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The Back Page | 21 October 2016 st pauls