Every Church is Dying
Every church is a dying church in some sense:
• Some churches are literally dying. They are slowly losing people and will likely shut down.
• Some churches are glitzy and successful. They look vibrant and alive, but they’re really only alive to themselves and their institution. They look alive, but they’re dying and they don’t know it.
• Then there’s the church that could be big or small, glitzy or drab, that dies to itself daily – that has taken up the cross and is more concerned with following Christ, no matter what it costs, than its survival.
All churches are dying. Only one type of church will experience a resurrection.
“The Kingdom of Nobodies” was a sermon on Mark 10:13-16 preached by Jono Thomas (the Combined Churches Children’s and Youth Minister) on Norfolk Island in January 2018.
Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)
The Little Children and Jesus
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
On Sunday February 11th we launch our new series, ‘A Beautiful Mess’, looking at 1 Corinthians.
Paul launched the Corinthian church and stayed there for about 18 months. A few years later, while Paul was in Ephesus, people reported to him that there were serious problems in the church. He also received a letter from the church that showed there was a great deal of theological confusion on a number of issues. Paul wrote this letter to a church that was in a mess; they were struggling with division, unresolved conflicts, sexual immorality and many other questions and problems that needed resolving.
Even though all this was going on, Paul was still able to write, ‘I give thanks to my God always for you’ and ‘you are not lacking in spiritual gift’. He didn’t just see the mess; he saw beauty amidst it all. Looking through the lens of the gospel he could see the beauty of what God was doing! Paul learned to focus on what God was doing amongst the mess, not the mess itself – a beautiful mess.
If God can use the Corinthian church, with all the challenges they were facing – then surely he can use us as well as we seek to love Jesus, love each other and love Norfolk Island!
Did you know it’s been 500 years since the Protestant Reformation? For the last month or so I’ve been sharing some short biographies of key reformers.
Today: John Knox (1513-1572)
John Knox is the Father of the Scottish Reformation. While working as a priest, Knox was introduced to the gospel through a man named George Wishart, who was eventually killed for his faith. Seeing his mentor martyred ignited a passion in Knox to devote his life to gospel preaching. Fleeing persecution, Knox went to Geneva and sat under the preaching of John Calvin. His time in Switzerland enabled Knox to produce theological works which inflamed not only the hearts of his fellow believers, but the hatred of those ruling Scotland. While he was pastoring an English-speaking congregation in Geneva, Knox’s goal was to return to Scotland and spark revival. His motto: “Give me Scotland, or I die!”
Finally able to return to Scotland, Knox’s gospel preaching was received by the burgeoning revolutionaries who were preparing to revolt against their Catholic Queen, Mary Queen of Scots. As the hostilities ended, Knox established the Reformed Church of Scotland – which became Presbyterianism. Knox’s fiery determination to stand with the gospel against human authority inspired his countrymen and left a lasting legacy of faithfulness. His ability to unite reason and passion in the pulpit has influenced centuries of preachers. Today, John Knox is buried, ignominiously, underneath a parking lot behind St. Giles Cathedral. You can visit him in space #23.
Thanksgiving is undeniably American, but in the late nineteenth century, Norfolk Island was to have a great deal of contact with the American church culture through the visits of American whalers and their wives, who often stayed on the island for extended periods of time.
Isaac Robinson was a trader who had settled on the island in the early 1860’s (he married Hannah Quintal). Perhaps because his home was so close to the pier where the whalers came ashore, Robinson eventually became a great friend to the Americans, eventually holding the title of “American Consul” (although no one is sure that this was an official position). No doubt some of the whalers and their wives, feeling a little homesick, shared stories of their Thanksgiving celebrations back home, and Robinson decided to try the idea here. Back in the states, Thanksgiving coincided with Autumn harvests, but in Norfolk’s milder climate, it was still possible to hold a sort of Harvest Festival in November, which was the island’s late Spring. The first record of Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island is in an entry in John Buffett’s diary in 1896. A service was held in All Saints. Three of Robinson’s friends helped him decorate All Saints Church in the capital, Kingston, using only palm leaves and lemons, and though he died and was buried at sea the next year, his notion caught on. For Norfolk’s second Thanksgiving service, the parishioners brought down all sorts of produce to decorate the church.
It is probable that Thanksgiving services were also held in the other churches on the island from those early years, because both the Methodists and the Seventh Day Adventist churches were founded under American influences. On Norfolk Island, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the last Wednesday in November, while the United States observes it on the fourth Thursday. Thanksgiving was to become firmly embedded in the island’s calendar and culture as an important tradition. And so it is to this very day.
This year All Saints was transformed with cornstalks, laden with fully formed cobs, tied alongside each pew. Along with the corn, there are stalks of sugar cane, magnificent urns of flowers, and the aisles and foyer are filled with piles of fruit, vegetables and baked goods. The setting up is carried out by a loyal band of helpers the day before. It is an activity that is almost as traditional as the Thanksgiving itself. During the afternoon, people arrive with contributions – bunches of bananas, boxes of fruit, sacks of potatoes, the best that Norfolk gardens and farms can produce.
The day itself is very much a family occasion, and many folk really make the effort to get there and enjoy the celebration of our island, its people and its produce. This year, we not only had a visit from Bishop Michael Stead, who is the Bishop for Norfolk Island, but we were also delighted to meet “Petal the puppet”, who came along especially to teach the kids about Thanksgiving!
Before the service, the Nobbs brothers (with young Arki Nobbs on piano) entertained the slowly building congregation with some island favourites. As the Bishop and Chaplain Rev. David Fell entered the body of the church, they were led in by Liam Christian-Bailey carrying the processional cross. The congregation struck up the Doxology, and everyone was in fine voice. The Lord’s prayer was said in the Norf’k langwij (Norfolk Island language) by Mr. Albert Buffett, President of the Norfolk Island Council of Elders, and later in the service, the scripture for the day, Psalm 103, was read by Mr. Albert Buffett, and US Chargé d’Affaires Mr. James Carouso.
In his message, Bishop Michael stressed the importance of thanking God for all his benefits, reminding us from Psalm 103 that in Christ Jesus, God has been gracious and compassionate toward us, and abounding in steadfast love. “This Thanksgiving Day, God doesn’t want us to only say thank you for the beauty and bounty of the earth, good though that is. This is a day to forget not all his benefits”. The Bishop noted that we need a day like Thanksgiving to remind us to do this, because by default we don’t give God the thanks that he rightly deserves. We take for granted all the good things we have, without pausing to acknowledge their source. He said that this was like a teenager who ignored their parents, but still expected to have their food and WiFi laid on!
A special treat during the service was when “some Quentl gairls” sang Gustav Quintal’s beautiful hymn “Oakleigh” (wonderfully sung by Gaye, Joy, Rosalie and Chelsea). This too was greeted with an enthusiastic applause. Peter Randall and Phil McDowell played the organ. At the end of the service, Don Reynold led us in the singing of the Pitcairn Anthem. The Bishop and Chaplain were led out, and the congregation remained seated while helpers carried the goods and produce to the tables outside, where over the next busy half hour most of it was sold to both visitors and locals. The fat fresh corncobs were especially popular, and the children had fun with the stalks of sugar cane.
The other churches had successful days too and because the Adventists have their service in the afternoon, many folk took the opportunity of attending two services over the day. Others had celebratory lunches with friends and family, and made the most of the beautiful weather with picnics and barbecues. Now that our Food Festival occurs in Thanksgiving week, we are doubly grateful for what our island provides, and for the people who share their skills and talents to bring it to our plates.
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
From our friends at Eternity News…
Celebrating Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island
Why does this tiny Aussie island mark the most American of holidays?
Thanksgiving is a big deal on Norfolk Island, the hilly island 1400km east of Brisbane defined by pine trees, jagged cliffs, and a colourful history as a penal colony and refuge for Bounty mutineers.
Up to a quarter of Norfolk Islanders attend church on Thanksgiving, either the Church of England, Methodist or Seventh Day Adventist church. This large influx is thanks to three factors – the island’s Christian history, its American connections, and its reliance on a bountiful harvest.
“Our church attendance on Thanksgiving would be bigger than Christmas and Easter,” says David Fell, who has been full-time minister of Norfolk Island Church of England since 2015.
“We’ll be packed to the gunwales; we’ll have something like four or five hundred people in All Saints for Thanksgiving, so it’s chock-a-block … It’s the one day that our nominals come to church, even more than Christmas and Easter.”
“Our church attendance on Thanksgiving would be bigger than Christmas and Easter.” –David Fell
The community of Norfolk Island has been coming together to celebrate Thanksgiving ever since American trader Isaac Robinson first decorated All Saints Church for Thanksgiving in the mid-1890s. As an agent of shipping line Burns Philp, the Registrar of Lands and the island’s first and only US Consul, Robinson had friends among the many American whalers on the island and it must have seemed the obvious thing to do.
“We’re an island of stories and Thanksgiving is part of the story.” – David Fell.
The former Bounty mutineers, who had come to Norfolk in the 1850s after they outgrew Pitcairn Island, had always celebrated the English Harvest Festival in line with the traditions they remembered from church life in England.
But the year after Robinson used palm leaves and lemons to decorate the church for the first Thanksgiving, parishioners brought down all kinds of produce to adorn the church, and a tradition developed of tying corn stalks to the pew ends and piling flowers on the holy table and around the font.
“At first, the families took home the fruit and vegetables after the service, but these days they auction it off and raise money for the church for maintenance and for staff,” says Fell.
“There’s a variety of banana dishes and they’ll always feature on Thanksgiving day.”– David Fell
While All Saints has the biggest service, the Methodist church and the Seventh Day Adventist church on the island also have their own Thanksgiving services.
Another reason Norfolk Islanders celebrate Thanksgiving is their connection to the land and its harvest.
“The thing about living on Norfolk Island is none of our fresh food is imported – it’s all grown here because of our strict quarantine laws – we are very much dependent on the produce of the island, so we’re one of the few places left where Thanksgiving kind of makes sense,” notes Fell.
“There’s no reticulated water, we’re all on rainwater tanks, and so, in that sense, it really is a harvest festival where we thank God for the provision of rain – it’s a place that feels very dependent on God and provision.”
Unlike in America, however, there will be no turkeys on Norfolk Island’s Thanksgiving dinner tables.
“It’s a place that feels very dependent on God and provision.”– David Fell
“People collect whale bird eggs – they’re a bit of a delicacy. It’s much like a Christmas lunch so there’ll be a big ham on the table, and our church Thanksgiving lunch will be a bit of a pot luck. There are island dishes, they do a lot of banana dishes – things with overripe bananas, under-ripe bananas, ripe bananas – there’s a variety of banana dishes and they’ll always feature on Thanksgiving day.”
The huge four-storey All Saints Church is one of two historic locations where Fell conducts services. The main morning service and Sunday school are held at St Barnabas Chapel, the old headquarters of the Melanesian mission. But All Saints is bigger, so as well as offering a 1662 Prayer Book evening service mainly for tourists, it also hosts the big celebrations such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.
“We’re an island of stories and Thanksgiving is part of the story, I guess,” says Fell.
“Ellen White … was gripped by this story of this Edenic-like Christian community.” – David Fell
Another reason Thanksgiving continues as a cultural remnant on Norfolk Island is its Christian history through the Pitcairners.
Fell says Norfolk Islanders still remember the Pitcairn hymns of that era and the Pitcairn Anthem, which are sung at funerals and public occasions.
“John Adams, who was the last surviving mutineer, should have been hung but he was pardoned because they found he was leading a small Christian community when all those decades later they found him [on Pitcairn Island], so that became part of the story, part of the reason that they were given a spot on Norfolk Island,” says Fell.
“And that’s why, coincidentally, the Seventh Day Adventists were so represented on Norfolk Island and Pitcairn because Ellen White in upstate New York at the time when her denomination was forming was gripped by this story of this Edenic-like Christian community on Pitcairn Island that was following the teachings of the Bible far away from the evils of society – they really were famous at that time.”
Since the mid 1890’s the community of Norfolk Island have been decorating All Saints Church and celebrating Thanksgiving together (this year the festivities begin at All Saints from 10am). But how did the most American of holidays end up on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific?
According to Church of England Chaplain, Rev. David Fell the Pitcairners had always celebrated the English Harvest Home festival, but it was not until Isaac Robinson came to the island that All Saints Church was specially decorated for the service.
Robinson was a trader who settled on Norfolk as agent for Burns Philp & Co Ltd., later becoming Norfolk’s Registrar of Lands and the island’s first (and so far only) United States consul. “The idea of Norfolk having an American consul does sound slightly absurd today” Rev. Fell says, “but in those days American whalers made frequent calls, and Robinson proposed dressing the church up American-style for Thanksgiving.”
Three of Robinson’s friends helped him decorate All Saints Church in the capital, Kingston, using only palm leaves and lemons, and though he died and was buried at sea the next year, his notion caught on. For Norfolk’s second Thanksgiving service, the parishioners brought down all sorts of produce to decorate the church. “The tradition became to tie corn stalks to the pew ends and pile flowers on the altar and the font. At first, each family took home its own fruit and vegetables after the service, but today they are sold to raise money for church preservation.”
This year we are looking forward to having Bishop Michael Stead preach on Psalm 103. Also in attendance will be US Chargé d’Affaires, Mr. James Carouso and his wife Elizabeth.
Everyone is welcome to join in the festivities at All Saints from 10am Wednesday, 25th of November (families are encouraged to contact Albert Buffett to book pews).
See you at All Saints!
John Calvin is the most influential pastor in church history. He wrote commentaries on nearly the entire Bible, which are still in print today. His systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, is arguably the most significant Christian book ever published. Calvin was the architect of Protestant theology, and his teachings gave rise to modern government, public education, and even capitalism.
Calvin was first and foremost a preacher, generally giving six sermons a week. He moved the baptismal to the back of the church, and placed the pulpit in the middle, marking a change in the purpose of corporate worship – Christians would no longer gather for sacraments, but instead for the preaching of the Word.
Born north of Paris, he was converted to Christ in his 20’s and then forced to flee France – Protestants were not welcome there. He eventually settled in Geneva, where he spent the rest of his life pastoring.
Under Calvin’s preaching, Geneva was reshaped. Refugees poured in from England, Scotland, and France, themselves fleeing persecution. So many came that Geneva’s population doubled under Calvin’s pastorate. He started a program to train men to return to their own countries as gospel preachers, and so many of his disciples became martyrs that this institute was known as “the Calvin school of death.”
Calvin died at age 54 – he simply burnt out. He outlived his wife, and three children, but his legacy still towers over church history.