Church Nerds

My wife and I are church nerds. We love visiting old churches in particular. Over the last few days we have seen a few. One was located at Wharram Percy which is the site of a deserted medieval village but the ruins of the church still exist. This church is particularly interesting because it shows evidence of 12 distinct phases starting with a timber church in the 900s  through to a stone church that was last used in the 1800s long after the village had been deserted.

These changes, indicating the growth and the decline of church numbers,  are reflected in the stone work.

One of the other churches we visited was at Beverley – the largest parish church in England. It has all the hallmarks of a Cathedral but it is not the seat of a bishop. It is quite a magnificent building and showed signs vigorous use as a church – which is not always the case.


The church at Wharram Parcy


Here we can see and earlier round column being covered by a later square one


This photo shows an arch that has been in filled with wall and window


Inside Beverley Minster


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Iona Travels

I enjoy exploring the history of the church. Iona is one of the places that looms large in the the story of faith in the UK. The arrival of St Columba from Ireland, the writing of the book of Kells, Viking raids, Celtic crosses (reinforced with circles to support the arms of the cross) and iconic traditions all occurred here.

Today many of the sights are simply tourist attractions. As in Glastonbury, the new age crowd love to promote their wares in “spiritual places” like Iona. And the bed and breakfast trade makes a killing. 

Yet to tread these paths is a special thrill which is hard to reason out. But here were Christians a few hundred years after Christ in the far corners of Europe contending for the faith and often dying for it. We may not agree with all their methods or understandings but we must admire their courage and determination. Iona and the neighbouring island of Mull are spectacular so the trip along with the island hopping Caledonian Macbrayne ferries is well worth the effort. 

Today a spiritual community still operates out of the restored monastery  – so the tradition, in a way, continues.

Celtic cross

The Priory

St Columba’s Cove

The Nunnery   


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Tallinn – a last look

We left Tallinn this morning and we’re sorry to leave. It is a friendly and delightful city. We made one last journey to find Linda, a statue to the wife of the founder of Tallinn, Kalev, a giant, whose death caused Linda to grieve deeply. She was so overwrought that she heaped up stones as a memorial to him and so created Toompea hill and in the process she turned to stone – or so the legend goes. We then walked around the city wall watching the first PE classes of the day on the local sports field. There were the eager children and the less so. Some things never change.

On returning to the Hostel we gathered our belongings and headed to the bus stop for bus No 2 to the airport. As I was sitting near this stop for a while I couldn’t help noticing elderly people come past one by one to fossick in the bin. Once again the contrast of the flash cars and designer clothes with the the town’s poor struck me. These weren’t the young beggars we often see on Australian streets trying to get enough for another hit. It was a sobering conclusion to our stay. 

The Old Town Square


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Tallinn – Old City

There is an ironic mystery about medieval towns. Ironic, because on the one hand we idealise them but in reality they were dirty and brutal places.  This irony continues today with the old buildings being surrounded by the latest Benz’ and Audis and designer labels.

Despite all this Tallinn is worthy of its World Heritage status if only they could get graffiti taggers to cooperate. The walls, towers, unique buildings plus the fact that parliament and many embassies find their home in the old city make it quite special and tranquil in comparison to many cities. Step outside the walls and one is immediately reminded of a citiy’s usual mayhem.

I particularly love the alleyways. The stones and walls bear the scars of numerous centuries.

The Three Sisters


Katariina Kaik


The Old Wall


Looking down on the old town


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History Doesn’t Make You Nice

The Church on the Spilled Blood is case where the memorial doesn’t match the man. Like many leaders Alexander ll wasn’t the most gracious. Although he had introduced some reforms he also sent thousands into exile in Siberia. It wasn’t an accident that people wanted to throw grenades at him. Alex aside, the memorial to him is a triumph to the art of mosaics. Nearly every surface is covered in stories of biblical events and saints. Both the outside and the inside are highlights.


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Going to Russia

When I was about 12 I was an unstoppable letter writer. I wrote to aircraft companies for pictures of planes but I also wrote to countries asking what it was like to live there. One such letter was sent to the, then, Soviet Union. It obviously ended up on the desk at the tourist bureau because a month or so later I received a pile of travel pamphlets from the Soviet Union. Two items particularly struck me: the Trans Siberia Railroad and, what was then, Leningrad. Well finally I am on my way to to one: St Petersburg. The name change itself reminds us how much the world has changed in those 53 years. 

Thursday 24th of September. Hetty and I are on the Princess Maria waiting to head to Russia!

We have now been in St Petersburg for three days. It is an amazing city of contrasts: wealth and poverty, old Ladas and brand new Range Rovers, smartly dressed people and the poor.

Highlights: the Hermitage Museum, The Peter Paul fortress, the Museum of Political History, the Church on the Spilled Blood and much much more.


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When I woke up this morning …

This morning I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 1:30am. Being awake I did the Facebook thing, contacted nearest and dearest and then forced myself back to sleep. It will take time to get used to this 7 hour time shift.

When I woke up the second time, Hetty and I had breakfast and headed off to a local museum. We followed this with a visit to an intriguing island – Suomenlinna or Sveaborg. It is essentially a giant fortress originally built by the Swedes in the 1700s in their battles with the Russians. From 1808 to 1918 it was under Russian control. In 1918 the Fiins rebelled and took it back. Today it has been decommissioned and the island is a haven for artisans – glass blowers and the like.

The church on the island is particularly interesting as its fence is made of “retired cannons” – a bit like turning swords into ploughshares.

We have finally made some sense of the Helsinki transport system. Not only are the trams painted like Melbournes rattlers their inter city trains are run by VR!

Sibelius is a highly regarded Finnish composer. We were able to get to see his memorial in a park to the north west of the city. When we arrived there was a bus load of Japanese tourists. Note to self, I must learn “All aboard” in Japanese. When they left I was able to get few photos of this fascinating piece of art.


the pipes are meant to resemble organ pipes


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Stay Calm


Our holiday has started … but we are stressed already. Our original flight to Sydney was delayed meaning we would miss all our connecting flights. So we were changed to another Sydney flight. Then at the last moment we were changed to a direct Singapore flight. We had to rush through customs because it was going to leave in 30 minutes. Arriving at the boarding gate, after going to the wrong one, we find our new flight delayed by 2 hours due to a tyre change.

In the whole scheme of things with all the refugees in the world -we can’t complain , and a plane with a better tyre can’t be bad thing.

Later Saturday:

After a 3 hour delay we finally got on our plane and arrived safely in Singapore. The warm fragrant air is striking as the plane doors open. Singapore airport is the revolving door of the world. People from all over the world coming in and going on to their next destination.

Early Sunday Morning:

We are in an aluminium tube travelling at 38,000 feet at about 855 kms per hour over Russia. There are still about 2000 kms and 3 hours to go before we get off in Helsinki.

My body is telling me it is 10:30 in the morning. But the pitch black outside the plane and my weary eyes tells me time has changed.

Once we arrived in foggy Helsinki, being Sunday, we looked for a worship service to attend. A few people had told me about a church built into a rock. So we went there – Temppeliaukio Church, a Lutheran church. We didn’t understand a word but the music was sublime. We took  an order of worship and asked one of the stewards what the Bible passages were. We promised to read them later … in English.


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Preparing Christian Young People for the Future

As a homeroom teacher who has a group of students for three years from year 10 to year 12, one of the topics that constantly exercises my heart and mind is, how do I prepare my students for the rapidly changing future?  After taking the roll and making the daily announcements, what do they need to hear from me that will assist them, not just for a school day – but for eternity?  I would love to hear from other Christian teachers.

I have a few basics:

The Bible needs to be a constant reference, and prayer is essential. My own example is important because if I don’t walk the talk then anything I say is made void. But that is just the beginning.

Picture 566The anchor must be a regular and ongoing reference to Scripture and its overarching story of redemption with coming of the king and his promised return to fulfill his kingdom plans. This vision of a place in the Kingdom, I believe, must underpin everything I say and do.  It is the foundation.  Regular communication with this personal God is the next layer.  However, the next step is crucial. How do these two underpinnings apply on an ongoing daily basis as these young people prepare for their future? This future, as every adult knows, will have twists and turns, pains and joys – incredible highs but also incredible lows.

Recently we have been exploring the lives of Christians in predominantly non -Christian and often persecuted cultures.  Our children need to know that in the history of the church, Christianity has not always been part of the dominant culture. In fact it has been at its best when marginalised and persecuted. The history of God’s people from OT Exile through to the early church and beyond has revealed the amazing story of God and his kingdom, in the darkest of times. Not knowing the future, my students still need to know that a personal God has his children’s future in His hand.

My students also need to know how the story ends. There isn’t any doubt where the victory lies and who has the victory.  But in the meantime there is work to do as we prepare for the return of the King.

Year 10 students are by their very nature idealistic.  This idealism is a wonderful trait as it can enable them to develop Christlike eyes for the world.  How does Jesus look at injustice, asylum seekers, the poor distribution of resources, persecution, pain suffering and … so on. A year 10 student doesn’t have that hardened adult cynicism but rather looks for the possibilities – possibilities we need to encourage and not stifle.

Our students need to have a vision of hope. In a materialistic and often hopeless or directionless world I need to pick out perspectives of hope: hope for their own heart and lives, hope for the possibilites as they serve their God, and hope for change that is empowered by God himself – change in themselves, others and the world in which they live.

I would love to hear what other Christian teachers do to encourage their students vision for the future – a future that is anchored outside themselves in the God who reveals himself in creation and especially, Scripture.

Categories: Children, christian, christian education, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

On Reaching 65

When I commenced full time permanent work (after 10 years of part-time or non-permanent work!) in 1974 I had to sign various documents. There was one I remember clearly.  It referred to the date of my retirement in mid 2015 – July 28th to be exact.  At the time I thought the date a ridiculously long way away. More immediately I was looking forward to teaching Orwell’s ‘1984’ in 1984. Even those 10 years seemed like a lifetime. Incidentally I never got that chance because I was in church ministry by that time.

cervantesBut today that date has arrived.  My wife sang a sleepy happy birthday to me as I headed to school, the staff at school sang their rendition and a year 11 student left a delicious cake on my desk …  and not only hasn’t that retirement arrived but I am glad it hasn’t. I haven’t been a victim of the raised retirement age, but rather, since the removal of the compulsory retirement age many years ago I am now free to continue working.

One of the benefits of being a teacher is that students keep you young and connected. Their enthusiasm for life, their idealism and their sense of justice is a great antidote to cynicism and tiredness. Even today my Literature class and I had an ’ah ha’ moment which sent a shiver up my spine.  I cast my memory back to the ‘old’ teachers of my childhood.  Some were great and, I now realise, some were desperate to get out of a profession that they felt trapped in. I thank God that I am one of the former.

I must confess that I am looking forward to Long Service leave later this year.  But I am also looking forward to more teaching – Lord Willing.

P.S. In what other profession can you dress up like Cervantes and not feel like a total chump!

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