On Tuesday President Ramaphosa addressed the nation and gave churches and other faith groups the right to start meeting again in their buildings, though with strict conditions.

At the same time, he called for a National Day Of Prayer for today, Sunday 31 May.

The Gathering has made the tough but right decision to remain in exile for a while longer, but as we Gather this morning on WhatsApp we are proud to be standing with the President & the nation and answer his call to prayer for South Africa.

Today our Gathering will be entirely given over to prayer for this nation and the situation we find ourselves in.
During lockdown I've written four posts so far about books, which would suggest books are quite important in our house. Three of those posts were on the theme of 10 Books I Have Loved and the other post was about Lockdown Reading, looking at the books I have read in the first few weeks of lockdown. I will post Part 2 of that soon.

Books I Have Loved Part 1 was about fiction books I have really enjoyed, Part 2 was about non-fiction books I have enjoyed and Part 3 was about Christian books which I have also enjoyed.
It was very exciting to get the news from President Ramaphosa that the faithful may gather under strict guidelines. It was exciting to think about The Gathering getting together again from June 7th, but as pastors we also have a duty of care of our church members and we need to be leading by example in how we navigate our way out of the current crisis.

For The Gathering it feels right that we remain in exile for just a little longer.
We might not be the biggest feeding scheme around, but we are consistent and dependable and it's great to know that in an uncertain world & uncertain times, our regulars know where to find us confident that we'll be there ready to serve them.

That in itself is a tremendous blessing.

I've not sat down and added up how many food parcels, food vouchers and meals we've managed to serve so far in this crisis, but each one feels like an immense privilege to have been able to give and a huge blessing to The Gathering  as we seek to practically demonstrate the love of God in such dark times.

Well we didn't see that one coming but I for one went to bed a very happy man last night!

Who'd have thunk it... the government giving in to lobbying and reversing a decision.  Then again, it would have been a tad #awkward asking the various religious groups in the country to stand together for a day of prayer without allowing them to start to gather in their buildings again.

I don't know what your church experience has been under lockdown, I hope it's been a blessing to you. The Gathering has thrived under lockdown with amazing attendances at our WhatsApp Gatherings, both on Sunday mornings and our Wed evening prayer meetings. Church has become even more interactive than it already was and virtually all who attended contributed. WhatsApp church has been a huge blessing in a difficult time!

True Joy

It's true!

For me at least, for I am at my happiest and most joyous when I'm serving at our Soup Kitchen or involved in blessing folk in some other way through The Gathering.

I love what James said in his letter: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world"
Last night President Ramaphosa addressed the nation and unlike the last time he did so, he actually had things to say, and was worth listening to.

The big announcement was that the whole nation will move to Level 3 which means most economic activity can resume (though not restaurants, hair & Beauty salons, gyms or churches). We have to wait a few days for the govt to gazette the actual details of what we can and cannot do, but I'm excited.
Gathering on WhatsApp on Sundays & Wednesdays is a huge blessing in the life of The Gathering as we seek to stay connected and interactive in our faith together.

It was pure joy to share Communion together this morning as part of our worship of King Jesus and those that were able took a selfie and shared it online.

It feels like The gathering is stronger for the lockdown which is a huge blessing and encouragement.

We all long to worship together in our regular venue praising the one who saved us, but until then we'll praise Him anyway!

Live Again


I want to post about all the wonderful blessings we're experiencing right now, and share about how life is great, but I can't do what I see some do and just pretend the sun is shining and life is great. In fact I have to be honest and say that I'm struggling to remain positive at present. I'm having to force myself to stay away from the news because it's worse than depressing and it makes my blood boil.

It was such a blessing to open The Gathering's Soup Kitchen again last night to serve our regulars and it was great to blessed with such a spectacular sunset just before we began serving.

What's really blessing me at the moment is our growing relationship with the local Neighbourhood Watch.  They have been assisting us over the last few weeks helping to ensure people are social distancing, but they have also been getting on and distributing food parcels around the community.
Following on from yesterday's post I felt the need to salute the generous heroes (locally & abroad) who quietly give to make it possible for The Gathering, My Father's House, the Night Shelter and countless others to be able to reach out to the most vulnerable and provide them with food parcels, soup kitchens, sandwiches, food vouchers etc.

The generosity is real, as is the desire by many to help in whatever way they can to ensure that the most vulnerable are cared for, particularly in provision of the most basic human need of all.

Without the support of such generous friends and local businesses (many of which are struggling themselves) we would all be struggling to serve the neediest and that would be even more heartbreaking than things already are.

Thank You!

"Our lockdown has revealed a very sad fault line in our society that reveals how grinding poverty, inequality and unemployment is tearing the fabric of our communities apart" - President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Talk about stating the obvious!

President Ramaphosa then goes on to share some very nice words but no clear action plan other than more talking shops. Meanwhile the media is full of headlines like this: "One in three adults in SA goes to bed hungry, according to latest research", which really comes as no surprise to those of us who have been working as hard as we can to ensure the neediest and most vulnerable enjoy a degree of food security.

Sadly, here we are 55 days in to our lockdown and still the most basic need of the most vulnerable is failing to be addressed by the government. But this is the disturbing reality out here and it's compounded by the ineptitude of a political system that just doesn't appear to care.

Blessings

One of my passions in church and mission is working in partnership with other churches and NPOs, and one church we've known, loved and worked with for quite a while now is Father's House over in Simon's Town, led by our dear friend Shaddie.

Before the lockdown they had stopped meeting as a church on Sundays in the regular sense and were reaching out to the homeless on Saturday afternoons. They truly are being the hands & feet of Jesus in the community. Once lockdown started the homeless were rounded up (that's a rant for another day!) so they refocused their efforts on the informal settlements in an area called Redhill in the mountains above the town.

They now have a separate NPO called My Father's House and together with some other local community groups are feeding almost 4000 children everyday.

Having written about ten fiction books I have loved and ten non-fiction books I have loved, I thought I would finish the series with ten Christian books I have loved. I thought about splitting this in to two parts between academic and non-academic but realised that one of those posts would just be way too boring. LOL!

So here are ten Christian books I have loved all for very different reasons and at different stages of life.

Jim & Casper Go To Church was an eye opener and really helped to shape my idea of what church should or shouldn't be. Jim is a pastor who pays Casper, an atheist, to go to church with him. The point is not to get Casper saved, but to get an outsider's perspective on what we as Christians often think is OK for church. The most sobering moment in the book comes when Casper asks "Is this what Jesus told you to do?". For me, as a pastor I knew that I never wanted to be asked that question by anyone. If you're in church leadership, you really should read this gem.

I was inspired by a recent BBC News article in which they had asked people to send them their last 'normal' photo taken on their phones before their lockdown began. I really like this idea so I'm posting mine and Paula's #LastNormalPhoto from the day before our lockdown began on Friday 27 March (that feels like a long time ago!).

I'll start with Paula's last normal photo, though truth be told neither of our photos are really of normal times given they were both taken on the last day of freedom.
It strikes me that there are pretty much two basic arguments about lockdowns around the world. There is the argument for blanket ends to lockdowns to let life and economies get back to some semblance of normality, then there is the save lives side which advocates for lockdowns to remain and for people to be more self disciplined in their actions.

I've read as much as I can really stomach on the whole subject, but have had my thoughts and position confirmed. You might call me a fence sitter, but I think there's a genuine middle path that can be navigated.

Happy Place

It was so good to be doing our Soup Kitchen again tonight, especially as it's also a sneaky way to catch up with some of our church members.

It was a slower kitchen than normal but it was great to learn that this was because the Neighbourhood Watch had been busy distributing food parcels around the community today, that means a lot of people have got food for a little while now.

We were also blessed by a friend who had prepared 3lts of beautiful gammon stock which gave the soup a delicious tang.

It seems official (to me at least) that the lunatics are indeed running the asylum.

In our local shop today I was amazed to see that certain herbs and spices weren't available either because they aren't deemed essential, or because their manufacture isn't. Either way they're deemed non-essential which is bonkers.

This begs the question: who gets to decide what is or isn't essential?

In fact it raises a whole series of questions about the lockdown and how the citizenry are being treated in what is supposed to be a libertarian democracy.
In 10 Books I Have Loved Pt 1 I talked about ten works of fiction that I have really enjoyed. Today I'm going to talk about ten of my favourite non-fiction reads and there are some belters in here.

I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction these days and particularly enjoy autobiographies, though I've not included any here. I'm also a fan of World War 2 literature and have fallen in love with Anthony Beevor's writing.

But I'll start with a book I think everyone should read. Paul Foot explores the franchise thoroughly from beginning to now, and leaves no stone unturned exposing some of the lies and myths surround the democratic vote (in the UK), as well as chronicling how we got the franchise which was finally made universal in the UK after WWII, yes, it really is that recent.
Having posted about 10 things I love about my home..., I'm going to do a couple of posts about 10 Books I Have Loved. This first one will be about 10 works of fiction that I have really enjoyed. They're not necessarily my all time favourites, just books that were a thoroughly good read and worthy of their spot on our bookshelves.

I'll start with my first ever Ben Okri... I tried reading this on holiday in Turkey in 1992 and really couldn't be doing with it. Then after we'd been to Tanzania in 1998 I picked it up again and suddenly it made a lot of sense and a whole new world opened before me as one of the best storytellers ever told an amazing tale.

I think having lived in an under developed part of Africa it helped put the  themes of the book in to context and it really brought a level of understanding I was incapable of back in '91.
Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful moms out there, you make the world a better place!

It was a joy to honour and celebrate our Gathering moms this morning, especially as Paula shared a word about Jochabed, Moses' mother, and the selfless sacrifice she made to save his life.

Jochabed's sacrifice is a stunning reminder of the sacrifice God made for us when he sent Jesus to die on the cross for us.

Firewood

It's that time of year again where we stock up on firewood ready for the winter ahead.

We got the wood from a different supplier this year and first impressions are very good as the wood appears to be very dry.  If it's as dry as it looks it should burn really nicely in the woodburner.

It always amuses me to think that this is the sum total of our winter heating bill out here, and most years we have just enough left over for a few BBQs too.

Same Storm

I came across this the other day on social media and it really struck a chord with me, and after spending a couple of days explaining to a few folk some of the realities of lockdown here in SA for many that The Gathering reaches out to and ministers to, I thought it would make a good post on here.

I have to confess to being just a little bit tired of hearing people in privileged positions (politicians and so called celebrities and a few others) telling the rest of us that 'we're in the same boat'.  They trotted that rubbish out under austerity and it wasn't true then just as it isn't true now.

We are NOT in the same boat! We are in the same storm for sure but not the same boat. How some will cruise through this storm and how some will barely tread water in the hope of surviving  are two very very different things.

South Africa is one of the most unequal nations on this planet with the disparity between wealth and poverty being very stark and clearly visible every day of the week. Just stop at pretty much any traffic light and see the number of people longing for work, it's truly heartbreaking.
I was intrigued to see an article on the BBC today about the age old tradition of shaking hands.

I am not, and never have been a fan of shaking hands, simply because I've never been convinced of other people's hygiene practices, and as it turns out I wasn't wrong.

I once contracted worms from a handshake which was extremely unpleasant! We were at a funeral in Zimbabwe and had just sat down to eat when some late comers expected everyone to shake hands with them as custom dictated. I was really reluctant but also didn't want to cause offense. Anyway, let's leave that there.


Even worse, as a Christian I fear that moment in church when some half-wit says "let's hold hands", I can't tell you just how much I hate doing that!

It's a rare thing to admit but I much prefer the Muslim approach of placing a hand on your heart as a way of recognising and respecting someone else, but if I must be offered a hand I will stretch to a fist bump.

My real hope for the other side of Covid-19 is that the rest of the world finally wakes up to the grossness of shaking hands and kicks the filthy habit forever.
One of life's great pleasures is reading, and so it's been great to have been given so much time through the lockdown to be able to sit and read.

My favourite spot is on the hammock in the front garden, it's such a comfy spot under the trees and with the dogs coming to keep me company it makes for a very pleasant break from reality for a while.

Some of the books I've read over the last few weeks have been sitting on the bookshelves for a couple of years (like Roller-Coaster - Europe 1950 - 2017) waiting patiently for their turn. Others like the Louis De Bernières' So Much Life Left Over have to be read almost as soon as they arrive in the house.

Roller-Coaster is the follow up to To Hell And Back - Europe 1914 - 1949 which was a masterpiece of history, and Roller-Coaster is pretty fine too, especially as Ian Kershaw steps out of his comfort zone to examine a period of history he isn't normally concerned with (he is the pre-eminent writer on Adolf Hitler). I had never read anything by Kershaw prior to To Hell And Back but I wouldn't hesitate to read anything else he's written.

Thank You

As well as restarting The Gathering's weekly Soup Kitchen we're partnering with a number of other groups and organisations in our efforts to get food parcels out to as many needy and vulnerable families in our community as possible.

Yesterday we were thrilled to be blessed with the first fruits of our partnership with Revitanation, a local project put together by a group of concerned local businesses.

Enough food for six hampers was delivered to our house and we put the hampers together and distributed them to families in Firgrove that we know are struggling through this crisis.

... About My Home

This post was inspired by those social media posts about 10 of this or 10 of that, and I got to thinking that it was time to write a really positive post along similar lines, and what could be more positive than talking about my 10 favourite things that make my home the best home ever.

So here it is; 10 things I love about my home...
Happy May Day Level 4 Lockdown Day.

Today is another Public Holiday in South Africa officially known as Workers Day but this year is know as either Level 4 Lockdown Day or Essential Workers Day.

The cause for celebration here is that finally after  35 days of a very hard lockdown, today we are finally allowed out to exercise or walk the dogs between 6 & 9am as long as we do it within a 5km radius of our homes.  Even these restrictions feel like freedom!