Not Holding my Breath…

holding_breath.jpg If you’ve followed this blog for a while then you’d know that it started as a way of documenting the journey we have been on as suburban missionaries, exploring different ways to express church and mission.

It was a way of trying to help those from our old church stay in touch. But I don’t think anyone ever read it! Along the way it just became a place for me to reflect, vent and do the occasional brain-dump.

So for those who care, here’s the latest in the Upstream story…

As you may know not much has turned out as we had hoped or intended. I was talking with a friend yesterday about this and we both agreed strongly that in spite of where it has taken us we feel it has been an incredibly rich and valuable time. The talk of success and failure always surrounds our analysis.

I am very conscious that we have not achieved what we set out to achieve – to see lots of people become Christians and formed into a community. I’d say that is failure. We simply weren’t able to do what we thought we could. I’m not particularly happy about that because I value achievement, but along the way I have also learnt that we set some goals over which we had no control whatsover and that was pretty dumb.

As much as we haven’t achieved what we came here for, I’d say God has been able to accomplish a fair bit, sometimes because of us and often in spite of us. We can look back at many fantastic moments and many very significant achievements. They weren’t what we expected, but I do think we had a very narrow perspective in the first few years of being here.

I know the story of the boy who shot the arrow and then drew a bullseye around it, so I’m cautious of sounding like that. But I do sense God has been at work in many ways even though I have struggled with disappointment at not achieving our initial goals. As I sit here tonight I feel quite released from those pressures. I don’t lament this ‘failure’ the way I used to, yet I still long for people to meet Jesus and follow him. I guess I’m just so much aware of how little real influence I have over that.

So after last year being a difficult time as we saw 2 core families move on, we were just settling into a healthy pattern this year when we discovered that Mike & Heidi are going to off in 2 months to Broome with a work transfer. They have been fantastic friends and brilliant team members, but they are tired and in need of a rest so as this opportunity presents itself it feels right that they take it.

Our team is getting smaller… again…Effectively it leaves Gav & Helen & Danelle and I as the ‘team’.

And… you know who’s heading off next year for 9 months of travel?…

So where does that leave us then?…

Yes, we do ask the question ‘is it time to call it quits and re-think how we do life and church and mission?’ Yet in spite of the constantly shrinking team that doesn’t seem to be where God is taking us.

We all love living where we do, amongst the people around here and life feels pretty right.

I am actually quite open to finishing what we are doing and re-forming, or even moving on if need be, but as odd it may seem none of really feels drawn in that direction at this point in time. Maybe we will be in a different place in 12 or 24 months, but right now, its business as usual.

Someone asked me the other day what would make me really happy and enthused and I found myself answering straight back, ‘I’d be a pig in mud if we were able to find another two or three families to join our team.’ As I said it reminded me that my heart is very much in the work God has called us to here, but at times it does get a bit lonely and a few other people to work with would be my dream.

But given that very little else has gone to plan I am not holding my breath!sophie s choice movie

And then there were 3

Last night was our farewell to the Herden family who have been part of our Upstream team since the beginning.

Earlier this year they bought a house back in Lesmurdie and in a few weeks time will move back there. Its been interesting observing how the economic boom here in Perth has affected our team. Two families who were renters were pushed to the limit as rents rose and it become increasingly foolish to throw money down that drain. Earlier this year the Masons left to head for the bush and now live in Narrogin where they bought a cheaper house and can live more easily. And for similar reasons the Herdens are now off having bought a home back where we originally started.

Its a huge challenge to balance the tensions of responsible stewardship and authentic discipleship. No one wants to ‘sell out’ to the middle class dream and just buy a house and fall into line like everyone else, but then it is foolish to throw $350.00 + /week down the gurgler on rent when buying is just a bit more expensive.

To some degree our team has been a victim of the boom as younger, less financial families have struggled to make ends meet and have made the choice to ease the burden. Decisions to move on are obviously more complex than that, and there are other factors involved, but economics has been a very real factor for us to deal with.

So last night we had a final meal together and gave gifts and spoke words of love and encouragement to one another as we parted. Its not like we will never see them again, but distance does make a difference and we know it will be much harder to catch up.

Danelle ‘ran’ the night as I actually felt very sad at the loss of some friends who we have known for 11 years now and didn’t feel up to it. I have felt this move way more deeply than I expected. I have been totally in support of Andrew & Simone moving on and buying a place of their own and getting established. It has felt like the right thing to do for several reasons. However in the last few weeks I have felt their loss very deeply and am really sad that we won’t have them around any more.

We first met Andrew & Simone when we moved to Lesmurdie back in 1996. They were teenagers in our youth ministry and quickly became close friends and people we loved. So our connection goes way beyond the Brighton adventure and right back to one of the most formative times of both of our lives. We have been with these guys thru single-ness, engagedness, marriage – we were the best man & chief bridesmaids and then to kids and moving away from the hills. They were with us thru a time of ministry that was unique and very formative for us. They have seen us in some very good times as well as some pretty ugly times.

Last night we had a very simple time of giving gifts and putting in letters what we just wouldn’t have been able to express fully in words. There were plenty of tears and hugs and a lot of love as we brought this chapter to an end. Emotionally it left me pretty wrecked, but again grateful that we were sad at their leaving – not secretly breathing a sigh of relief.

It was beautiful seeing the kids say their farewells also. Our kids took some time during the week to write letters and buy gifts for the Herden kids and their kids chose one of their favourite toys to give to Ellie & Sam as a way of helping them remember them also.

If you aren’t part of our team this probably reads like interesting information and maybe it sounds ‘kinda nice that these guys care for each other’, but for us it has been much more wrenching than that and I know we will feel their loss deeply.

These are always the risks we take when we choose to enter significant relationships though. Much more convenient to keep it shallow and distant. Much more painful, but also much more joyous to really share life with people and to do it thru the good and the bad. As friends we have had our share of times when we have disagreed or not always connected well, but we have been able to work thru it all and grow a relationship that has been valuable and mutual.

I realise that these last couple of posts have been a tad melancholic, but that’s just life at the moment. What is that old saying?… “Sometimes you’re the dog and sometimes the tree”?… I don’t like dwelling on sadness and pain – partly because I don’t operate at the emotional level all that well, but I began this blog partly to chronicle the journey we have been on and this is part of it. Its part of an ongoing story that has been both exhilarating and at times despairing. (Even raving optimists have times of despair.)

I realise some of you may worry about me as I write this stuff honestly.



A few people have expressed concern for us and how I am ‘coping’. While I’m being quite honest on here I’m not seeking pity – nor am I about to have a breakdown. I just want to tell the truth about this journey and for those who have been reading here for a while this is where its at. It has high points and low points – much like life really…

You can robin hood dvdrip

start to worry about me when I sound like a ‘victorious living’ nutjob! Right now I’m fine & we’re fine, but we are sad.

We are also praying and seeking out at least one or two families to join our team. As I wrote before it seems most people are seeking ‘good teaching, quality worship & a kids program’, but we aren’t seeking to deliver on those expectations in the normal way.

Anyway, if you are reading this and live in Butler and would like to be part of what we do then drop me an email or give me a call. Or if you live in Timbucktoo and are willing to move house then maybe we should talk too!…

We Are the Stories We tell Ourselves

I think it was Mike Frost i heard say this – the things that we talk about actually shape our identity quite profoundly.

Tonight we took some time to refocus on who we are, what we are doing and where we are headed. We do it fairly regularly and I often lead the group thru this. Tonight we iintentionally hit it from a different angle so for those who are interested in alternative ways of sharing vision here’s what we did.

As most of the team know I am often off at other churches and conferences speaking about what we are doing and learning in suburban mission. Trying to offer learning and hope while ‘keeping it real’ (all in 25 minutes sometimes!) is quite a challenge.

So I thought I’d pose that challenge to the crew.

We split the group in half and each group was given 8 sheets of paper and a set of 50 picture cards (made from flickr and webshots)

Their task was to develop a presentation they would make to a church who enquired about what we are doing in Brighton. In many ways doing this is a test of whether we are all singing from the same sheet, so it can be a gamble! Fortunately after 4 years we have developed a fairly clear shared sense of identity and it was good to see clear themes emerge in the presentations.

Each group had to:

a) Choose an overarching biblical text to frame our work

b) Choose an image per ‘point/learning’ and then use no more than six words to describe their ‘point/learning’

c) Choose a story to tell in relation to the learning.

Here’s a summary of what each group said (minus images)

– 1 Corinthians 13 “If I do XYZ, but don’t have love I am nothing”

– Narrow the gap (between those in the community and the church)

– Love God

– Love one another

– Love the world

– Go hard or go home

– Choosing to live counter-culturally

– Persevere

– John 1:14 The word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood

– Community – God, us, other

– Leaving the familiar behind

– Taking risks

– Listening to God

– Serving

– Counter-cultural living

Its great to see the same themes emerge and to know that the DNA of who we are is firmly embedded in the group. If I were re-affirming our vision I would have hit on some very similar themes, but the actual exercise of getting others to do it forces them into a process of distillation and assessing what is critical and what is peripheral.

In the process we were able to share some great stories, have some laughs and feel focused again in what weare doing.

Communion – Getting it Sorted

A little while back we began ‘re’-exploring the whole issue of communion last chance harvey dvdrip

thelma louise movie

and how we practice it.

We have taken our time over the month to read, research, discuss and finally arrive at some conclusions. Yesterday Danelle led our meeting – one where the kids were present the whole time – and we finalised what we will do in regard to communion. It was great to have them there and have their input.

The short version is that in our community we will treat communion primarily as a time of remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ death for us. If it has more sacramental significance for you then that’s cool, but it wasn’t ringing our bells that way. (As I said previously that is probably more heritage than theology.)

We have decided to have ‘communion’ every week (all my heretical Church of Christ friends cheered loudly…) over our evening meal. We felt some use of symbol & ritual to mark the meal as different to every other meal was important, so the person whose home we are meeting in will begin the meal and remind us that this time is a time for remembering Christ’s death. They will break the bread and pour a glass of wine (Sacred Hill Cab Shiraz… hehe…) as well as light a candle to start the meal. Those who want to can take the bread and wine and those who just wish to eat the other food can do that. Its pretty simple and all are welcome. I guess we could even sing a song if we wanted to.

When I write it like that it seems so ludicrously simple and it makes you wonder why on earth people were killed over this issue. Anyway we agreed to re-visit what we do every 6 months or so to pay attention to how our approach is developing and to monitor whether it is growing in significance or ‘losing something’, although that may depend more on participants than on actions…

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The Veggie Patch

Back in March we went to the Forge National Summit and one of the things God biffed me with was the need to pay attention to the way we live in relation to issues of sustainability and creation care. It had never been really high on the agenda for me – just another thing to think about… and it had gone thru to the keeper.

However I rocked along to Geoff & Sherry’s elective session – simply because I like these guys – but in the middle of their sessions on creation care I sensed God really asking me to get onto this issue. We have taken a few initiatives, but this weekend it was time to create the much awaited veggie patch.

I picked up some huge limestone blocks for free recently and then got another heap for $50.00 so we set about creating a new garden bed in our backyard. It was our ‘Sunday Service’ weekend and one of our planned projects didn’t come thru so the guys suggested we attend to our own backyard instead. That felt a little odd, as we have got used to helping others, but we were happy to accept the offer of help – there’s no way I could lift those blocks into place on my own!

It helps to have a good mate who owns a bob-cat and a few friends who are prepared to bend their backs. So this week for church we dug in and created the ‘patch’.

Here’s what happened…


The way it was… green, but borrrrring…


Digging up lawn – nasty stuff that couch grass!




30 mins in… smoko!


Getting there…


Hanna & Ellie loving it


Almost done


All done and veggies planted… now…if only you could grow crays!…


Guess who’s a nurse?…

Brighton – Its What a Community Used to Be?…

It has been interesting watching a suburb develop and struggle to cope with the growing population and the inevitable social problems that accompany it.

There are 2700 homes in Brighton and around 5000 people, 2 primary schools, (one with 700 kids) and no high schools. The community facilities are currently limited to two small rooms by the sales office and the ex -cafe converted into a community centre by the local AOG church. The shops were completed earlier this year much to the joy of many residents, but for various reasons the suburb seems to be experiencing growing pains.

I am not sure all of what is happening, so please don’t read this as decisive social comment, but do read it as the concerned musings of a resident.

I am more ‘wondering’ what has shifted in the social landscape though, as we no longer seem to be as warm as we were previously. Perhaps we are entering the ‘reality’ stage of our development where the glossy newness of the suburb has worn off and we are now discovering that we have the same social problems as anywhere else – maybe even moreso.

Being the last suburb in the sprawl means we are a long way from anywhere and we are certainly not well resourced with facilities or people.

graff.jpg download buddy dvdrip

In recent months we have seen:

– a huge increase in the amount of graffiti – I am told by predominantly 11-12 year olds often seeking peer approval.

– an increase in break and enters – there have been at least 2 young offenders released back into the ‘wild’ in Butler and they have become big fish in a small pond. When one moved back home last year there were 17 B & E’s in his own street the following week… a coincidence? The park opposite his home has become a war zone with regular fights there on Friday nights and brken bottles strewn around at other times.

– an increase in the number of gangs and violence – the AOG guys closed down their Friday night youth program after 2 violent and dangerous incidents where people were injured and property damaged by a gang of teenage boys. There was little choice as it was just plain dangerous. Last weekend a good friend of ours was beaten up by 6 teenagers, and that is a common occurence.

The local intranet regularly has people complaining about what is happening, but no one really has a solution. How do you work with teenagers whose only real desire is to run wild and create havoc. Youth groups aren’t the answer – they don’t come – or if they do they only come to destroy. Anyone who has done street work would know it is highly time intensive with low rewards in terms of people changing.

Your average suburbanite is either too busy, too afraid or too disinterested to get involved. Everyone wants peace in the backyard, but no one really knows how to achieve it, so for some its a case of being perplexed by the problems and not knowing where to start.

My youth work days are behind me now and I don’t really know quite how to work with the gangs and kids who are out of control. A recent community meeting did what so many have done in the past – identified a problem, discussed a problem and then we all went home.

As a small church community we really don’t have the resources to assist in this situation, but we are seeing our suburb change and it is concerning.

I don’t feel afraid, and I don’t fear for my kids as they are still too young to be affected by most of this, but I feel some responsibility for how this place develops. I get irate at those who carp and bitch about the problems but never get off their arse to do anything. But even for those of us who want to the question of ‘where to start’ is perplexing.

I would predict that things will continue to go downhill for quite a while unless something changes.

I imagine the developers would be concerned because the way the place is now is not going to sell land! At very least the economic concerns should motivate them to become more involved, but then again… what can they do?…

Sunday Service

When we moved to Brighton we made a committment not to do anything that even resembled a Sunday service for at least 18 months. We were very much aware of the inbuilt default settings we all come with and were consciously seeking to re-imagine what church could look like outside of a Sunday gig.

Well today we caved in and had our first ‘Sunday service’. We are committed to spending the first Sunday of each month in serving someone locally who could use a hand.

Part of the beauty of this project is that our kids get to be involved in ministry and service and they enjoy it. Ellie asked what we were doing today… I told her… ‘Oh cool! I love backyard blitzes!!’

Here’s a great pic of the kids working together with Helen to move dirt. The intention was that they move it from the paving to the wheelbarrow, but I think they actually moved it from one area of paving to another area!


As well as paving, weeding and repairing there was also some significant theological discussion. Here’s a pic of Gav & Len who appear to be laying bricks but in fact are discussing the question of women in ministry. Len is a visitor and comes from the ‘deep south’ of WA where this is an issue up for discussion at the moment. We had some great conversation around the pavers.


We finished with lunch and some prayer for the person whose house we were working on.

It took longer than the standard hour, but it was still a pretty decent morning at church!

Brighton – Its What a Community Was?… Part I


The marketing line for the development we live in is, ‘Brighton – it’s what a community should be”… and the images are of landscaped parklands being enjoyed by happy families, where everyone is friendly and where there is warmth and friendliness like you haven’t found anywhere else. Its suburbatopia.

Would it surprise you if I said it isn’t quite like that?

Well, it was for a while… but things are changing and there are some interesting times ahead for this little suburb in Perth’s far north.

When we first arrived in 2003 the central parks, playgrounds and barbecues were new and beautiful. The landscaping still had price tags on it and the environment was pristine. In some ways it felt way too artificial for my liking, but it did have that ‘new car’ smell about it and you enjoyed being one of the first ones to benefit. When you went to the local playground and let the kids play on the shiny new equipment, inevitably you would sit and chat to other parents who were also enjoying the provision of great facilities and were seeking to get to know their neighbours.

The demographics showed a large swathe of young families and the overflowing primary schools were evidence of how many pre-teens were in the area. With kids everywhere, it was often noisy, but it was also safe and felt like a very family friendly environment. The developers had worked hard to create an attractive suburb and had done a good job. I know many people moved here because the marketing of ‘what a community should be’ was appealing to them.


There were community development officers and specialists employed to help the community find its feet and get established. They did (and are doing) a good job. They genuinely seek to encourage the locals to get on with the job of creating their own community structure. The Anglican priest even had a large slab of his salary paid by the developer for the first 3 years of his time in the suburb. They wanted to create a community that would feel warm and inviting even down to having a community church.

However the social landscape has shifted in the last 18 months or so and our pristine suburb, that once resembled a scene from the Truman Show is now no more. Something has changed…

I’m not even sure if its all bad, but there are signs of this once happy, friendly, safe community morphing into something that no-one expected….

I want to take some time to reflect on the changes that have taken place in our backyard over the last few years, so if you are also a suburban missionary stay tuned for observations on the challenges in suburbatopia.

Relating to Strangers Keeps Society Strong

So reads the title of Hugh Mackay’s Saturday column in the West Australian (Click on the image below to read the full story)

In this short piece about the nature of community Mackay describes the fragmentation of western society and the loss we suffer because of our individualism, transience and busyness.


He goes on to say that ‘community’ is more than just developing friendships and looking out for others who are like us. He calls this ‘tribalism’. He suggests that caring for the stranger is more of a mark of real community and it raises the ‘moral’ quotient of society as we actually build bonds that are beyond simple friendship as good as that may be.

Its quite a counter-cultural message in a self centred world where most people find it hard enough to care for their friends!