GIVING PRISCILLA A LIFE

PriscillaBack in 2000 I commenced as a Prison Chaplain at our local prison, a bit raw and apprehensive in a strange new environment. This was at the old jail which was basically a load of cage-like open yards, each enclosing a lawn area surround by the inmates’ units. The yards were in turn arranged around a large open area containing the admin blocks. The chaplain’s office opened onto the open area.

One morning, only about a month after I started, I got word that a young guy wanted to attend our Bible study that afternoon, so I decided to go down to his yard and check him out. When I got there the guy who came to meet me was a young aboriginal guy, very effeminate, could have been a black version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I invited him up and went back to lunch and then awaited the afternoon study.

After five or six guys had arrived and were making a coffee (in those days we enjoyed such freedoms) I stepped out of the office to see where our new attendee was, only to be confronted with the spectacle of him coming across the open area accompanied by wolf-whistles and jeers from the surrounding yards. About ten metres from the office he whisked off his outer shorts and, waving them about his head like Priscilla herself, minced into the office. I shut the door and thought to myself, “This is going be interesting.”

Fortunately the guys already there where a bit maturer and welcomed him, making him a coffee. Then the question came.

“What does God think of gays?”

To which I replied, “It’s not a matter of being gay or straight. It’s a matter of whether you have a relationship with the God who gave you life.”

And that to me is the bottom line. There is a God whose first thought toward us is one of love, not one of rejection and judgement. “For God so LOVED the world that he gave …. (John 3:16). There is a creator who loves and then gives, so that He can enjoy us forever. For sure that relationship is on His terms. We need in response to drop our rather life-less independence and to get to know Him, learn to love both Him and His ways. But from His side there is nothing standing in the way.

He longs for relationship. He longs to bring Priscilla out of her desert … and give him a life.

GOODBYE PASTOR PHIL

Rev Phil badgeWhen I first began as a Prison Fellowship chaplain out at Capricornia Correctional Centre I was issued with a name badge, reading Rev Phil Walters. Being a bit embarrassed by the ‘Rev’ tag – I was neither officially nor in character ‘Reverend’ – I covered it up and ordered a new badge, more appropriately reading ‘Pastor’ Phil Walters. However, having mislaid that badge, I now need to order a new one. Which brings me to a slight dilemma. Because I have come to a stage, with all my recent questionings of modern church practice, where I’m not comfortable with any titles, be they Pope or Pastor.

I must say that I have never really been comfortable being called ‘Pastor’. Perhaps it is because I’ve always struggled with the clergy/laity thing, which is an awful division that developed in the church very early on, creating a false old-covenant style division between the professional ordained elite and all the rest. A hierarchical model of leadership which is foreign to the New Testament.

Jesus made it clear that we are not to get hung up on titles. Surely this was his intention when he said

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. Matthew 23:810

I suspect that he knew very well our propensity to exchange the lower-case ‘function’ for an upper-case ‘office’ complete with title. So that someone who pastors become Pastor Someone. Then Senior Pastor Someone. Or Associate Pastor or Youth Pastor or Worship Pastor etc etc. The church is full of it. Apostle This, Bishop That, Most Reverend The  Other.

Where is such use of titles in the New Testament? Did Apostle Paul write to the Corinthians and tell them he was sending Pastor Timothy and Youth Pastor Titus to catch up with Senior Pastor Aquilla and Associate Pastor Priscilla? It’s a nonsense. And it perpetuates an unhealthy divide. Nowhere in the New Testament are people addressed by their functions in that kind of a way.

Of course the excuse we make is that it is a way of ‘honouring’ our leaders. But if we need a title in order to be honoured surely something is wrong. Should I not be honoured for what I am regardless of title? My son-in-law is a much respected and sort after plumber but we don’t need to call him Plumber Dennis. Why should he not be ‘honoured’ in similar vein to how we ‘honour’ pastors? Is his profession less honourable?

Pastor Only Parking2On the contrary I can hide behind a title, use it as a smoke screen to hide my insecurities or the flaws in my character, even pull the old ” Do not speak against the Man of God” thing.

No, no. The people I serve, in whatever function I have been called, are my friends and my fellow companions in the work of the Kingdom. This was Paul’s attitude to those around him and it should be mine. They knew him simply as Paul (or at the most ‘brother Paul’, a term he uses for Peter as well) and so I should be known simple as Phil.

So goodbye ‘Pastor’ Phil. And hello Phil, a pastor … and a father, husband, lover,  prison chaplain, events person, radio presenter, blogger, brother in Christ and friend of all, etc etc.

(Thank you Jon Zens for the photo, from his latest book A Church Building Every Half Mile)

ON BAPTISM – POUR OR AGAINST

I’ve just been reading a discussion on the House2House forum re modes of baptism. Some well formed arguments on both sides – but I’ve come to wonder lately whether the ‘right’ mode is really the ‘right’ issue. And here’s why.

As you know, I’m a chaplain in our local prison and for logistical reasons we are not allowed to have full immersion (my preference) baptisms. So, rather than ask guys to wait untilthey get out, we’ve made a compromise acceptable to all the other chaplains and, I believe, to the Holy Spirit.We use a kiddies pool with about six inches of water in it and a couple of buckets. While we pray over the guy being baptised a couple of fellow inmates slowly pour water over him until he is well and truly drenched. And well and truly blessed as well. God’s presence is there every time and the testimonies that follow are exciting.

One prisoner later testified that he feared that he would not have the sense of death and burial normally associated with immersion. However as the water poured over him he felt that he was being washed of all his sins. Then when he stood up he found himself under the air-conditioning and he was so cold he felt he was in the grave. When he then stepped back into the chapel office and got changed he had the experience of taking off the old and being clothed in the new. He came out of the office with perhaps a fuller experience of death and resurrection than he might have had in a more ‘proper’ baptism.

Trouble is that I am enjoying this mode of baptising so much I may find immersion a bit tame in comparison. We shall see. I have a river baptism this Sunday. Maybe I can merge both styles in together. Certainly I’m starting to think that the Holy Spirit does not quibble about these things half as much as we do.