there’s beer out the back, and a fence without razor wire

it’s been a really hot day in melbourne today. it would have been in the mid 30’s by the time i got to the prison… one of the men asked if the weather was as hot outside the prison as it was in, and i honestly don’t think it was… maybe the heat bounces off the concrete walls… i’m doing advent services each week with the men from the unit that houses inmates with intellectual disabilities and acquired brain injuries. i’m also going in on christmas day to do worship with them, and with the men from another unit – none of whom i know. that’ll be a challenge. because i feel like i need more challenges…

i haven’t been in to the prison for a few months, not since before the mid-year trip to the UK. some of the men had remembered that i was going away and wanted to hear about it… i’d almost forgotten i’d been there myself.

it’s a shock to go back into the prison. i’d forgotten so much – or i’d remembered it, but it had become a caricature of itself so i didn’t really believe the memory anymore. it actually really is that bad, that soul destroying. i need to keep going in so that stays fresh, because it changes how i write.

i led worship – there were three men from the unit who came, none of whom i’d met before, by memory. the prison had been in lock down for most of the day as many of the prison officers were at a funeral for a colleague. the men were a bit stir crazy as a result. i knew that what i’d prepared was wrong as soon as i walked in the door – it would have worked, just, if i’d had the group i had last time. but with this group of men i had too many words, too much abstraction. the candle lighting was lovely, though. maybe we’ll do that next time and get them each to light a candle as they pray for hope. i took in some prints of Banksy’s paintings on the segregation wall. they quite liked them. we talked about what pictures of hope we’d paint on the prison fence, but their faces looked too sad at that point, so i moved the conversation on pretty quickly.

advent is a crappy time to do worship in prison. too much talk of revolution and promises that just don’t hold water. it’s very easy to sound like a fraud – to be a fraud, really. i was listening to what i was saying and wanting me to just shut up. but they were lovely and gracious, and seemed, well, used to it.

tomorrow morning i’m meeting with a chaplain from one of our major hospitals. she wants to talk about worship for patients in the acute psych unit on christmas eve.

i’m developing a healthy dose of wrath to unleash on the next person who tells me that alternative worship is pretentious, or just about being hip or contemporary.

there’s a beer waiting for me out the back in my gorgeous wee garden where the trees have parrots, and the fences have no razorwire. next time i post i’ll be less grotty and self indulgent. promise.


  1. Perhaps the phrase “alternative worship” is a little misleading; perhaps you are attempting what every worshipping Christian should attempt & that is, “how do we tell this incredible gospel story in a manner that the people we are telling it to will be able to engage in it & hope beyond hope, be transformed by it”. If what I wrote is true then every church on the planet should be engaged in “alternative worship”. Worship that doesn’t engage the people it seeks to serve is surely dead before it starts & only serves to preserve itself.
    These are just a few bare thoughts off the top of my head. Oh, & if you think Melbourne was hot, I just returned from a 2 day job driving from Perth to broome & then rigging a concert system in the midday Broome sun. It was so hot I nearly passed out & had to stop work. The beer on the plane home didn’t even touch the sides.Go Well Cheryl.

  2. 2+ inches of snow and still falling. Slight chance that school will be canceled tomorrow.

    Let me add one more thought. I love your thoughts and processes in creating areas of space in time where it is easier and encouraging to come closer to God. That sometimes in practice it turns out like crap, or that some people just don’t get it is of no matter. You bless me, just by trying things that I haven’t thought of, you inspire in me the desire to be just a bit more creative.

    And it is probably time for me to bring my beer in. I want it cold, not frozen.

  3. laura, next year when i’m over, let’s have a bottle of wine one night…

    mick, i still want to claim the language of alternative worship – i’ve talked about that elsewhere on this blog, i’ll try to find a link rather than rewrite it in a tired, inarticulate, friday night kind of way.
    that broome sun can get pretty hot… i felt a tiny bit sympathetic until i remembered you were in broome!! it has to be one of the most beautiful places to be found on earth.

    jeff… thank you so much [and frozen beer is never pretty].

  4. A little sympathy I may be worthy of. (I know that my phrasing is Yodaesque!) I flew to Perth, midday Monday, co-drove a truck to Broome in 25 hours (virtually non stop) slept for about 5 hours in Broome, got up, loaded the show in, got on a plane, flew back to Perth, waited at Perth airport (2.5 hours) for the deadly red eye back to Melbourne & was back in my own bed at 7 am Thursday. The only time I saw cable beach was from the air as the plane flew out of Broome. But I do agree; it is a truly beautiful place.

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