Monthly Archives: January 2019

Nehemiah for today

Introduction to Nehemiah 1:1- 2:8

There is a whole book in our Old Testament called Nehemiah and it tells the story of his mission to rebuild the wall around the city of Jerusalem.  It’s a bit of a strange story to have in the Bible so let me fill in some background.

The book of Nehemiah is closely linked with the book of Ezra and probably originally they were one book.  We’ll hear about Ezra in a minute.  For those of you who like dates we are talking about 450BCE.  The land of Israel has been occupied for over 100 years.  First it was the Babylonians who ransacked Jerusalem in 586BCE, destroyed the great Temple, and carted off many of the leaders and others as slaves in Babylon in what is known as the Exile.  It was a crushing defeat of a proud people and it caused much soul searching.  How could their God let this happen? 

The hard answer proclaimed by the prophets in the Old Testament was that the people had abandoned God.  They no longer kept the laws, and the worship of God had become a meaningless ritual.  Great disparities of wealth and a lack of respect for neighbour and life ensued.  Dishonesty, greed, and self seeking prevailed, and Israel lost its distinctiveness as a nation.  The defeat by the Babylonians was God’s judgment said the prophets.  The people had been unfaithful and this was the consequence.  But the Babylonians didn’t last either.  The great Persian King Cyrus had conquered his own grandfathers Median Empire (modern day Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan) and had moved north and west and conquered what we call Turkey.   Finally he moved south and conquered the Babylonian Empire. 

What was astonishing is that everywhere he conquered he brought a firm humane rule that respected those conquered.  He created new rules and a term which lasts into our own time – the laws of the Medes and Persians – laws which stand the test of time.  The defeat of the city of Babylon was a staggering event.  Cyrus diverted the river Euphrates which ran though the city and marched in on the dry riverbed with the city walls intact.  There was little killing, no marching off of captives, no demolition of the religious symbols as the Babylonians themselves would have.  Cyrus was an emperor who thought in terms of commonwealth with everyone benefiting from peaceful trade and shared knowledge.  The vanquished were treated humanely rather than as slaves.  Cyrus looked at all the various people in Babylon, captives from many lands that the Babylonians had brought there and said, “if you want you can go back home. I’ll even provide assistance to help you.” 

The Jewish population were not sure.  They had been there 50 years and some had prospered as Jews often do.  What had changed though was that they had drawn closer to their God. The hard times had caused them to turn back to God and their soul searching had led to a re-valuing of their faith.  God hadn’t abandoned them as they thought, but they had abandoned God. 

A new dream began to emerge and that was God’s Holy Temple must be rebuilt in David’s city, in Jerusalem.  So a contingent of exiles was formed with a mission to rebuild the Temple.  Cyrus was generous.  He gave the Jews all the vast treasure of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the Temple when the Babylonians had destroyed it.  You can read about their mission under the leader Zerubbabel in the opening six chapters of Ezra.  You’ll also read there that there was a rift between the returning exiles and those who had remained in Jerusalem.  The locals had intermarried with others and the exiles saw them as being second rate Jews who had acquiesced to the values and customs of the foreigners and others who lived around Jerusalem.  They were seen to be like chameleon lizards who adapt in appearance to whatever environment they are in. When these locals offered to help rebuild the Temple they were rejected.  It all caused strife and delayed things somewhat and the rebuild appears to have run out of steam.  The prophets Haggai and Zechariah weighed in with support to get the job completed.    Cyrus dies but his successor was also a man of tolerance…Darius.  You may remember he learnt something about the Jewish God when he consigned Daniel to the lions.  It was under Darius that the Temple was finally finished and it seemed a new age had dawned.  There were wonderful celebrations, but in reality the completion of the Temple wasn’t a magic bullet for the struggling Jewish community.  There is a lesson for us….our mission to repair a fine building is not the missions.

The next chapter of the story belongs to Ezra the priest.  Ezra was a rather pious man who would be labelled a religious fanatic in our time.  He lived in Babylon about 50 years after the Temple was complete.  There was by then a new king Artaxerxes.  Ezra could see that the distinctive Jewish way of life was in danger of being lost back in Jerusalem and while there had been a turning back to God with the building project it hadn’t lasted.  The people of God there had no cutting edge, no distinctiveness.  They were Jews in name only, they had a chameleon religion. 

He nagged Artaxerxes with a message…”there are a number of good Jews living in Babylon who would like to return to the land of their ancestors.”  Eventually the King said go and Ezra went with about 1700 others and sort things out in the homeland.  Ezra wasn’t pleased with all the backsliding he found back in Jerusalem and set about teaching the locals about the laws of Moses.  Ezra was particularly keen to re-establish the Sabbath, to impose a tax to pay for the proper running of the Temple, and to stop intermarriage with Canaanites and other races.  At the core of his mission was a desire to establish Jewish identity that had been watered down with all the mixing of religion that had been going on.  He even went as far as annulling all the mixed marriages from the past and wanted to send the women and children involved off out of Israel.  In the book of Ezra you can even read a long list of  the marriages that were dissolved!  As you can imagine there was opposition and poor old Ezra ended up minus quite a bit of hair which he pulled out in frustration.  Restoring the soul of the people wasn’t as easy as just passing laws to protect purity, and ranting and raving about how bad they all were.    

Reading…Nehemiah 1:1 – 2:8

Enter Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was a cup bearer of King Artaxerxes Cup bearers sound a strange profession but they were very trusted individuals in charge of what the King drank.  Not only did they have to be a good chooser of wines, but they had to ensure no-one poisoned the wine because that was a common way of getting rid of kings.  Nehemiah was a confidant of the King.  Nehemiah was also concerned about Jewish identity and the need to re-establish a new sense of Jewish distinctiveness.   The Temple had been rebuilt in Jerusalem the spiritual home of the people but Jerusalem was a city in ruins without a city wall.  Nehemiah heard God’s saying that he needed to go back and rebuild the wall.  King Artaxerxes liked his cup bearer very much and could see he was not sick in the physical sense but that he was suffering from a sadness of the heart. “As long as you come back you can go”, he said, and even provided an armed escort and a promise to provide all the timber necessary for the job.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he could see there was much to be done but also he was going to find opposition in the form the local governor who didn’t appreciate Nehemiah arriving on the scene with his connections with Artaxerxes. The surrounding inhabitants of the land also didn’t want a strong Jerusalem, so Nehemiah took control of the city.  He seems to have been a great organiser of people and got the locals with money organised to each take a section of wall to repair.  No more just looking after your own interests, but Nehemiah talked about the common good.  “We can work together to do something we could never manage by ourselves.”  I guess today we might say Nehemiah was a great team builder.  There was opposition but Nehemiah was determined.  It started with jeering, but developed into armed clashes, so Nehemiah organised armed guards and a system to signal to everyone when trouble was brewing.  The work will continue said Nehemiah but every builder and labourer will be protected.  In one hand a tool and in the other a weapon. If you go to Israel today you’ll see nothing has changed. 

The people, reassured, protected, and with a will that believed God wanted the work done had the task completed in 52 days.  There was a great ceremony and Ezra the priest read the Torah to all the thousands of Israelites gathered in the Temple precincts. Many gathered had never read or heard the law being read before so Nehemiah and the Levites moved amongst the people to explain what was read.  There was great consternation among the people as they heard the teaching and saw they had failed to keep these laws.  But Ezra and the other leaders also affirmed the people with the message, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  In a great revival the people re-covenanted with God to keep the laws, to keep the Sabbath, and to tithe their income to support the upkeep of the Temple.   

But the story ends on a downer.  Nehemiah eventually heads back to Babylon and sometime later comes back to Jerusalem to see how things are going. He tours the city and finds the Temple staff and leaders are not keeping the tenets of the Torah.  The priests are not being paid because people have stopped tithing.  Out on the streets the Sabbath is not being kept, and the corruption the reformers had fought to erase is back.  The transformation Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah all longed for had only partially taken root.  Nehemiah’s story ends with an angry man going on a rampage telling the people to keep the Torah and saying to himself and to God, “at least I tried!”

What do we make of it all.  Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, all diagnosed an issue with their religious community.  That issue was that their religion has lost its saltiness.  The laws which brought life were forgotten.  It had lost its cutting edge.  The people of Jerusalem had become chameleon Jews who fitted uncritically into the patterns of the world around them.  Seeking wealth, possessions, and comfort.  God was no longer a living presence but a distant and dead reality.  Later religious leaders would recognise that building temples or walls doesn’t change hearts.  Stories like Ruth and Jonah were needed to remind people that God is much bigger than one select group.  I’m surprised that our dear friend Donald hasn’t championed Nehemiah the wall builder, but I want to champion the idea that God can be found in all people, and in all places and fine buildings and fences and walls aren’t particularly fancied by God. 

If Nehemiah were around today I would suggest that instead of rebuilding walls he would rebuild spiritual practices.  Instead of putting stones on top of one another to build a wall we need to build spiritual practices into our lives that nurture the Way of Jesus within our lives.  We need to build lives that are not built on the foundation of consumerism and acquiring more, but on building a relationship with God and participating in the mission of Jesus to discover life in all its fullness.  Keeping the Sabbath as a day to re-orientate in God, building and participating in a community of faith, finding prayer practices that work for you, asking more often what is God saying to me, making space to reflect and listen to the inner places, nurturing spiritual companions for the journey, meeting to study scripture together, reading good spiritual literature, practicing hospitality…. These are some of the building blocks that will build lives that are changed from the inside out.   

Listen to what Nehemiah is saying to you!

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Sunday 27th January 2019

While our Church Building is Repaired we are meeting each Sunday at The Mineral & Lapidary Club 110 Waltham Rd (next to Waltham School) at 10am.

We would love to have the opportunity to welcome you.

Sunday 27th January 2019


A very warm welcome to all who worship with us today. Please stay for a cuppa after the service.

We are now on Facebook – what we need is for everyone to visit the St Martins Presbyterian Community Church page and “like” it. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your grandchildren!

Foot Clinic has been cancelled this month, and will resume on Monday 11th March at 43 St Martins Rd. If any clients need their feet seen to in the interim, please phone Lyndsey McKay 388 1264 and this can be arranged.

Wednesday Walkers: 30th January Meet 9.30am at South Library for a walk in the shade of the trees, followed by coffee at Novel Café. If you wish to join us for coffee, please note that if it is hot our walk maybe shortened as it was this week. All are welcome. Sonya.

Building Progress:The carpet is all laid. Kitchen benchtops have been completed.

Windows in the toilet have yet to be tinted with one way film. The control desk for sound and lighting is in place but final wiring yet to be completed. Touch up painting yet to be completed. A small amount of electrical work yet to be completed.

Carpark seal will be completed early this week and soil placed in the front garden.

An application for code of compliance will be lodged this week

Practical completion and final clean will be in about 10 days’ time.

There will still be much work to be done landscaping outside, repairing concrete paths, fitting out storage areas, curtaining, etc

Crafty Crafters resumes this Thursday 31st January 10am-12 noon at 43 St Martins Rd. New faces are always welcome. Bring along an unfinished craft item, or learn a new skill. Cost $3 per session. Contact Lyndsey McKay 388 1264 for more information.

Multi-Cultural Festival Saturday 9th February, 11am – 3pm, Linwood Community Arts Centre, Doris Lusk Reserve, corner Stanmore Rd and Worcester St. A free event to celebrate diversity with a multi-cultural feast of food, activities, song, dance, music and art from around the globe.

Volunteers in Parks:Interested in helping maintain and enhance city greenspaces? For online information and contacts go to gardens/volunteer-in-parks/.

You’re invited to a Presbytery Picnic: Bring along the family and a picnic and join us at the Groynes (entry off Johns Rd) on Sunday 3rd February from 11.30am. All welcome.

Session Notes….from meeting on January 23rd

Financial Matters…. Some members of Session met with representatives of the Presbytery concerning our immediate shortfall of $50,000 to complete the building.  We presented a report of what has happened with cost over runs and the Presbytery representatives have indicated strong support.  We are progressing some avenues which may meet the shortfall in full.

We have indicated to the Presbytery that with loss of income from capital savings our ongoing financial situation is finely balanced.

We have asked the Presbytery to approve reducing the housing allowance paid to our minister from a full allowance to 2/3rds to help balance our books.

Ministry Review….A review of Dugald’s ministry has been conducted by the presbytery and has affirmed his work.  Some goals have been set to guide the next 15 months as Dugald transitions into retirement.  These include: completing the transition back into the church, increasing interaction with the community and the community usage of the church complex,  initiating a meditation group, developing the governance and visioning role of the Session, encouraging hospitality and conversation.

Parish Breakfasts…we will continue to hold these every two months with groups responsible as follows: March 17th Session, May 12th Men’s Group, July 7th Fireside, Sept 15th Walking Group, Nov 3rd Worship.

Gathering Events… we are looking at possible gathering events once we are back into the church complex….winter movie evenings (tea and movie), weekly morning tea with a focus on the sermon from the previous week,  flag 500 evening, board game evening…. It may be that you have a bright idea or an event you would help organise.  Talk to a Session member!

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What are Your sealed orders?

What are your sealed orders?  – Ps 139: 1-6,13-17, 1 Cor 12: 1-18

I don’t know how many of you enjoy doing jigsaws.  I’m one of those people who can get addicted.  I have strategies of finding all the pieces with straight edges to go around the outside, and then looking for bits of a particular colour or texture so that the seemingly impossible task of fitting it all together can be accomplished.    This morning I’ve given you each a piece of a jigsaw, and I’m inviting you to consider it for a moment.  I’m wondering what you can tell me about your piece…?

Unique, only piece like this, part of bigger whole, etc…

One of the messages of that wonderful Psalm 139 is the unique way each of us is made.  There are some pretty radical claims made that somehow there is a guiding hand at work in our very conception and the way we are knitted together.  It isn’t pure chance that you are you and I am I.   The poetic images tell of a power at work within our very DNA, and even I think within the family and community that nurtured the sort of person we are. I say this is a radical idea because it is in stark contrast to the prevailing narrative of our modern world which proclaims its all chance, luck, and genetics.  The prophet Jeremiah who struggled with understanding his life was comforted by these words of God.  “

I’m inviting you to hold your little unique piece of jigsaw and hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah:  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”  (Jer 1:5)  Jeremiah struggled with depression and sometimes could see nothing of value in his life so these words were of comfort to him. 

The Holy Spirit of God was somehow there as the first cells that were you came together, and somehow within your very DNA the Spirit was at work creating the very unique being that you are, and dedicating you to your unique holy purpose.

One way a modern mystic and healer, Agnes Sanford pictured this was that before we were born each of us were given what she called ‘Sealed Orders’. It was as if right at the beginning God sealed within us a unique way of sharing love with the world.  I should explain these sealed orders are not commands, but are an invitation to live out your true purpose.  They are not something we are commanded to do, but invited to be.  In our protestant tradition we would call these sealed orders our calling.  Sometimes we talk of ministers being called but actually in our tradition we believe each of us is called….each of us has a divine dream within our being, a dream that will help heal the world.  Frederick Buechner, the wise American author said, “the place God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

These ‘Sealed Orders’ or what God invites you and me are embedded somehow within us.  If we can discover these we will lead a meaningful life and we will be deeply at peace with ourselves because we are in harmony with our true purpose.  People who never discover their sealed orders are invariably unhappy and unfulfilled.  Dr Bernie Siegel tells the story of a man who wanted to be a violinist but instead became a lawyer in order to please his parents.  He developed a brain tumour and was given a year to live.  He decided to spend his last year doing what he really wanted.  He quit law and devoted himself to playing the violin.  A year later he had a job as a violinist in a concert orchestra and the brain tumour was gone.

Sadly often in our modern world people see a job as a means to get money rather than the way we might live out their our dream.  It is a huge factor in the discontent seen in the modern world and we would do well to talk of calling and life purpose much more often, but I guess if you remove any idea of  God beyond us or guiding power calling and purpose become problematic .

You might think that God would make it easy to discover our sealed orders but for some reason that is not so.  I think that has something to do with our separation from God as human beings.  We who live east of Eden will have to work to discover our true reason for being – our ‘Sealed Orders.’

I think we start discovering our ‘Sealed Orders’ when we ask the question, ‘what is the unique way I was created to share love with the world?

We start getting in touch with our ‘Sealed Orders’ when we notice the things we get most absorbed in life, or the things that bring joy and fulfillment in our lives. 

There are other ways we can get a glimpse of our sealed orders.  Consider these questions….”who are our heroes and why?”, (“what creature or living thing in nature do you feel drawn to?”)   “If you had only one year to live and unlimited resources what would you like to do?”,   (“what do you have to do?”) “what activities bring you a deep sense of peace and joy?”, “when do you feel most alive in your body?”, and “what do your friends see as your unique way of giving love?”.  It’s interesting but if you are observant you’ll see these sealed orders on display even in children as you watch them play and if you carefully observe what catches their attention.  Even before birth in many cultures of our world there will be some clue as to what to call a new baby  so in our scriptures often someone’s name gives a clue to their sealed orders.  Jesus’ name was revealed before his birth – it means savior.  Others get a name change along the way like Peter, the Rock.

There are other ways to discover our life meaning.  I’m not suggesting we go looking for death but people who have near death experiences and claim they meet up with the Presence of Light and Love invariably have a much clearer sense of mission in life.  They seem to glimpse their purpose and are empowered by love to live it out.  An encounter with God will often reveal something of our meaning and purpose.  Looking at our unique being through the lens of tools like the enneagram can give us clues. I think a core purpose of a church community is helping one another see more clearly our sealed orders.  I don’t think we usually do it well.  Like society around us we are good at seeing faults in one another and we all have those.  What we need is more people who encourage and name what we see as our friend’s way of giving love to the world.  People like John the Baptist who refused to claim the crown of Messiah but instead pointed to Jesus and said “he’s the one who has come to heal the world.”


Paul doesn’t talk about sealed orders or ways we can share love – he uses another term – spiritual gifts.  In a number of his letters he says we need to learn what our spiritual gifts are so we live out our unique lives and can serve God in healing this broken world.  He says everyone is gifted somehow, and one of the key functions of church is to help each other discover our spiritual gifts.  He names some of these gifts….

Wisdom, trusting, hearing God clearly, healing, encouraging, leadership, administration, teaching, praying, practical helping, offering hospitality.  We could add other gifts….

Paul encourages us to discover our gifts or ‘Sealed Orders’ and reminds us that all of us are gifted.  Then he says that when people get to know their gifts they need to offer their gifts and use their gifts in service for the healing of the earth.  Further he says together as a church family we can we can build a team of ordinary people who know their gifts and together can make a great difference.  That’s another reason I’ve given you a piece of a jigsaw.  Each of us is just one part and we need each other if we are ever going to put the jigsaw together and create a new picture.   Each living out our ‘Sealed Orders’ and sharing love with the world.  This healing of the earth is a team game and often it’s the least important pieces that can be the critical pieces in terms of putting it all together.  So there is a challenge here…to know our own gifts better, and to help each other know our sealed orders.

A story. The chaplain of a woman’s prison invited a team of spiritual directors to lead a retreat day with the prisoners.  The theme of the day was self esteem because that is a huge problem in prison.  So many prisoners and other misfits in society believe they have no constructive purpose in life and that leaves them very vulnerable to destructive influences.  Low self esteem literally infected these prisoners.  They had poor posture; their skin was sallow, their voices thin and their eyes full of fear and doubt.  In the afternoon the spiritual directors asked for a volunteer and Kathy raised her hand.  She was invited to sit at the front while the other 20 participants were asked to tell Kathy the things they really valued about her.  Prison life doesn’t encourage that sort of question but slowly the other women began to name Kathy’s gifts.  Someone kept a list of what was said for Kathy to keep.  The surprising thing was that as Kathy heard the women list her gifts her entire appearance changed.  She sat up straight and her skin began to glow.  At the end she was asked how she felt.  She said, “there is a warm glow in my heart that is spreading all over me,” and you could see it.  The others had helped Kathy discover something of her ‘Sealed Orders – her unique way of sharing love with the world. I’m not about to ask for a volunteer but I am asking you to commit to working harder to be aware of your own gifts and to share with others in our faith communities  what you see as their unique way of giving love to others.  Instead of seeing faults, see gifts.  Name the gifts.  Instead of keeping a passive distance take the plunge and affirm the gifts you see.  And if you want an extra challenge do it for someone you maybe find it hard to get along with easily.  That really gets the Holy Spirit excited!

Dugald Wilson 20 Jan 2019

Background to 1 Corinthians 12:

When Paul came to the city of Corinth around 49 AD he would have found a bustling commercial center of about 80,000 inhabitants.  It was a boom town.  Athens down the road was a cultural center with a rich history, Corinth was a hive of business and manufacturing opportunity.  It was a tourist town and some of that tourism revolved around the temples – one to Aphrodite on the mountain overlooking the city with its sacred prostitutes, another to Apollo,  but more popular was the temple of Asklepios, a god of healing.   In and around that temple many representations of body parts made of clay have been found indicating people’s thanksgiving gifts for their healing. One of the rituals in this temple was eating the meat offered to the gods and Paul picks up on this issue of eating food offered to idols in one of his later letters to the small Corinthian church. 

Paul founded a small Christian community in Corinth during his 18 month stay.  Typically he encouraged some with leadership ability like Stephanus, Apollos, Gaius, Erastus, Chloe and Pheobe.  Gaius had a large fine house which served as a meeting place for the new group of Jesus followers.  However most of the new group which numbered maybe 30 people by the time Paul moved on were of low status.  Inevitably this caused issues.  When Paul moved on he kept in touch with the communities he founded with letters.  His communities would make contact with him about issues they were facing and Paul would offer advice.  We have two letters written to the Corinthian Church in our New Testament, but there were more. 

As we hear in Paul’s letters the status issue was a repeating core issue.  Gaius’s house would have had an elaborate dining room where typically invited guests could recline on couches and enjoy fine hospitality.  Adjacent would be a larger open space, the atrium, where other guests were offered standing room and the food offered less lavish.  The design of the house and the social customs of the time divided people according to status in ways that were much more divisive than our own society.  This division and way of seeing each other inevitably crept into the new group and when the little community came together the well to do ones retreated to the formal dining room for some fine dining while the rest stood around in the atrium and got ecomomy class food.  This was anathema to Paul who aims some pretty strong words to the community.  This new religion, of Jesus followers, respected and valued every person.  Every one was a child of God and women and slaves in particular were drawn to the new community because it offered recognition of them as human beings and it valued the contribution they could make.   

We’ll hear some of Paul’s deeper thinking on all this in the passage we are reading from 1 Corinthians today… its about spiritual gifts….the way each of us is wired and the gifts we bring to God’s mission of renewing and healing the earth. ?u*

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Sunday 20th January 2019

While our Church Building is Repaired we are meeting each Sunday at The Mineral & Lapidary Club 110 Waltham Rd (next to Waltham School) at 10am.

We would love to have the opportunity to welcome you.

Sunday 20th January 2019


A very warm welcome to all who worship with us today. Please stay for a cuppa after the service.

Wednesday Walkers: 23rd January Meet at South Library 9.30am for an informal stroll, followed by coffee at Novel. All are welcome.

New Sunday morning roster is available today – please check to see if there is one for you. Anna.

Session meeting this Wednesday 23rd January at the church at 7.15pm, preceded by a shared finger food tea at 6pm.

Wanted: Does anyone have a spare 2019 calendar for the Parish Office please? Give Anna a call 332 6192 (Wed-Fri mornings) if you can help!

The Strengthening of the Church….  The construction team has been busy this week. The painters have finally finished their main tasks with some touch ups still needed. The electricians have nearly completed their work. Carpet

tiles will be laid this week. The sealing of the carpark will also happen this week.

A small team from Session has had a productive meeting with the Presbytery and leads are being followed up regarding meeting our critical shortage of $50,000.  Applications have been made to two sources of funding and a third is being worked on.  We are aware that there will still be other costs to be met to undertake landscaping, curtaining, and other work.  A new roof is needed on the toilet block.

Occupation will be dependent on the City Council issuing a compliance certificate. Tentatively we are looking to Sunday March 24th as an official opening date, but we expect to occupy before then.

Crafty Crafters resumes on Thursday 31st January 10am.

New Fence…Thanks to Cyril, Keith, David a new fence has been erected between the church and our neighbours on the south side.  What a great construction team!

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