Alex Pittaway was ordained into MCC ministry at MCC Brisbane on the 1st of July 2018. Rev Em shared the sermon … it’s all about listening, community and relationship. You can watch the whole fabulous service here on youtube and the text of the sermon is below.
Kia ora Whanau
Greetings from New Zealand and ‘Church in Progress MCC’. I’m Emily and it’s so exciting to be here today. Thank you for your hospitality MCC Brisbane, I’ve already made so many new friends!
Hello to the people watching from around the globe.
When Alex asked me to preach for you all today – I was really surprised. Luckily it was via a facebook message so Alex couldn’t see my face … because it would have looked like this … (insert surprised face here)!
I was surprised as we do worship a little bit differently at Church in Progress. Lots of things are similar but we don’t have a sermon. Instead we discuss the text together.
So basically, I’m out of practice. I didn’t feel as though I was the right person for the job. I hesitated. However, Alex encouraged me and a few days later I was saying yes. Yes, I’ll preach.
That’s is what today is about really. Saying yes. We are all here giving thanks as Alex has said yes. Not just yes to getting ordained … Alex has been saying yes, answering the call to serve, for years!
I did my homework Alex and asking around – people told me that you said yes when there were gaps in the MCC Sydney worship team, you said yes to organising movie nights, media interviews and mardi gras floats … just to name a few things.
I’ve been so proud of Alex, watching you represent MCC and standing up against gun violence during your time in the United States.
Alex says yes, even when it’s risky.
I first saw Alex in his leadership element at the General Conference in Chicago back in 2013. As a young person at that conference Alex was on a panel of experts helping to lead a discussion about technology. There was Alex in front of hundreds of people, holding his own. I was … well, I think I was a little bit jealous! I was just so impressed that Alex could say yes, and he could deliver on that yes so confidently.
I might not show it … but I do get nervous on occasions like this as I know it’s a big deal. I was ordained myself only a few years ago. Rev John Fowler will tell you … my path to ordination was sometimes a rocky one. More than once I questioned if it was a good idea at all! Why should I be ordained … surely everyone is called to do God’s work? Yes, that’s true, we are all called. But as I’m learning, each of us has a different role.
I chose a story from the Book of Acts, as Acts is messy. I can relate to messy! Acts is all about a bunch of people trying to figure out what it means to be followers of Christ, it’s about them learning how to live together, to share resources and be kind to one another at the same time! It’s a big ask! It’s a rollercoaster of a read, death threats, killings … yet … they keep saying yes!
Like I said, at Church in Progress, we have discussions … not sermons. It is our hope that we find ourselves in the story. By listening to one another we hope more of God will be revealed. Often, we just end up with more questions … so be prepared!
We start the discussion by asking a simple question …
Where do you see yourself in the story?
Well, honestly … I didn’t see myself in this story at all. At first look – this seemed like a story of a bunch of entitled males dishing out authority to other males. At a push I related to the widows … as sometimes I too feel at the mercy of a system run by men and I’m just waiting to hear what they are going to throw my way.
I also didn’t relate to the leadership style in this text. My way of doing things is leading from example. I don’t expect others to do something if I’m not willing to do it myself.
So, for example, if I think we should be present at a protest, I put an expectation on myself to be making the banners, doing the publicity, going early, hanging around afterwards. I find it hard to even ask others to be present, if I’m not going to be there myself.
My other gut reaction was … why did they have to choose preaching over working in the food line? Was preaching seen as more important? Surely both jobs were doing God’s work?
Had I picked the right text?
So, I crowd sourced … I asked others what they thought of this story…
Over dinner one night myself, my mother and my husband Alan poured over the text.
God revealed God’s self …
It happened while I was on a bit of a tangent – telling mum about Alex and how he did his CPE in the States. Clinical Pastoral Education was one of the best parts of my path to ordination. We were living with Mum when I did my training and she noticed that my listening skills significantly improved during that time. It was a real game changer for me. I know Alex really grew during his time doing CPE too.
When we take care to listen to others – transformation happens.
It occurred to us, around the dinner table, that the twelve must have been listening to their community to know what was going on. They were brave enough to hear the problem and then publicly acknowledge it, they talked about it together, prayed about it and found a solution together.
I was starting to like this story. As now it was about listening to the needs in the community, listening for God’s guidance and moving forward together.
But to move forward they needed to listen first. Question …
How does MCC Brisbane listen to the needs of the community?
Our conversation moved on. We talked about how overwhelming it can be when we actually listen. We turn on the TV are get bombarded with news from around the world, we hear our friends and family as they tell us all their problems too. We wish we could be present for everyone … but it’s overwhelming.
Then the Ah ha moment happened …
One person can’t do it all.
The twelve already had full-time jobs. They were good at those jobs! They had been trained up and now they were really building the movement. It would be crazy to move them out of those roles. They couldn’t go out preaching AND look after the food lines. There’s just not enough time in the day. They did, however, recognise how important it was to ensure that everyone was fed. So, they delegated. Genius!
Working as a team, everything gets done.
So, you’re probably wondering about my leadership style that I mentioned earlier … leading by doing. Well, this text has challenged that a little bit. I thought about how burned out I can get. Probably because I’m trying to do everything.
I thought about encouraging others to go to protests when I couldn’t be there myself. I put this into action a few weeks ago. Six people from Church in Progress went to a rally outside the United States Embassy, one of them spoke. I wasn’t even there! (Check out the Church in Progress facebook page for photos and video of the protest).
The twelve trusted seven other people – they enabled them to be active.
The twelve could have chosen to be control freaks and tried to do both jobs, to do everything themselves. But my guess is that they may have done everything … badly.
How does MCC Brisbane create space for people to be active?
What happens when we enable people to share responsibility?
I asked Rev Karl about this story in acts over the phone, Karl was super insightful … he said Emily, have you noticed the names of the 7 men who were chosen? To be honest, I hadn’t, the only thing I noticed was that I wouldn’t be able to pronounce them! Karl helped me out and let me know that they were all Greek names which is important.
It tells us that the seven were from the community that had the problem. This was a new group of people within in the wider community of believers. How affirming must it have been for the seven to be chosen to do that job?
MCC has a history and a vision to transform the world as we transform ourselves. We must believe in ourselves, believe in one another, truly know that we are all loved children of God.
Part of Alex’s job is to affirm you, to remind you that you are loved.
As a new pastor myself, I feel that is the biggest part of my job – reminding people that they are worthy, they are loved. Another big part is listening.
Even thought I was excited about being ordained, I felt uncomfortable too as I didn’t want to be set apart. I soon discovered that this wasn’t true at all. Being ordained isn’t about being set apart – it’s about formalizing and celebration being in relationship – being connected. Today Alex we celebrate you being welcomed into this community of MCC Brisbane. We prayerfully lift our hopes up, and joyfully imagine what this new relationship will bring in the future. We give thanks to God today as you have said yes, yes to being in relationship with MCC.
Something wonderful happened at my ordination – and I hope you feel it too Alex. The Holy Spirit didn’t come down on me like a rainbow or anything … that would have been awesome … but the Spirit of God was in that room. I knew God believed in me and loved what I was doing because each person in that room was there believing in me, supporting me, cheering me on and urging me to keep saying yes – yes to God and yes to my community.
So … I keep saying yes … and God keeps surrounding me with an amazing team of people.
Thank you, Alex, for saying yes.
Thank you MCC Brisbane for saying yes. Accepting Alex as your pastor and for committing to being part of his team.
Thank you to the wider MCC family for saying yes. We are committed to supporting you Alex and recognising you as the clergy person God has always known you will be.
God bless you on this new part of your journey Alex … we love travelling with you.