Yes Jesus loves them!

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The hardest thing about following Jesus is loving the ones he loves.

We all have them, at work, at school, in our circle of extended acquaintances – those people we just can’t get on with. There is usually no real reason for it, just a sort of a ‘like’ block – you just don’t like them and they (usually) don’t like you. It’s no one’s fault, it’s not a result of a fight or argument, it’s what people call a ‘personality clash.’ You can still be polite but you just can’t bring yourself to like them.

But you’ve got to love them.

Racism is something I have never understood. I really can’t make out why the colour of your skin can make you more or less worthy, more or less a person. It’s something I just don’t get. Maybe it’s my upbringing (although in a small town in North Wales in the 70’s they weren’t many people who didn’t have my skin colour), maybe it’s the people I’ve met along the road, I don’t know but I just don’t understand the racist mind. I would go as far as to say I hate racism. I hate what racists stand for, what they believe, their narrow minded view of humanity. I want to hate the racists too.

But I’ve got to love them.

Pedophiles! To quote most of society – they are the scum of the earth. Especially the ones the trawl for and then train young children. The very thought abhors me. Our justice system cannot be too harsh on them – there is NO justification for what they do and I hate the thought of even one free to continue their evil ways.

But I’ve got to love them.

Westboro Baptist Church, The ACL and various other bigots. I hate what they stand for, I hate the fact they use the name of Jesus to justify all their very unChristlike behaviour. I hate that they have influenced the media so much that most people think that every Christian is just as bigoted and hate filled as they are. As institutions I loathe them – but the individuals that make up those institutions –

Well, I’ve got to love them.

By now you’re getting the idea I hope. It may be a difficult concept but you should be catching on –

Murderers – hate what they do – but I’ve got to love them

Wife beaters – hate what they do – but I’ve got to love them

Most politicians – as shallow as a dried up pond – but I’ve got to love them

Homophobes – all people are different, get over it – I’ve got to love them

English rugby fans – I don’t hate them but they are a bunch of misguided, self righteous, know it alls – but I’ve got to love them

I could make the list a very long one and after each category I would have to put – but I’ve got to love them.

This is what makes following Jesus so hard. It is not an easy option, it does not make you a soft person. It is one of the most difficult things imaginable – Jesus calls us to love the people that every fibre in our being is telling us to hate. Those that we consider the lowest of the low – there we are called to love. Those who hold the complete opposite views to us – we are called to love. Those who would use terrorism to wipe out what we believe in and stand for – we are called to love.

They are all children of God, they are all loved and valued by him. We may not see their worth but he does. If one person counts, then everybody counts!

It may be hard for us to understand and even harder for us to do but we are called to love everyone.

And loving them means we should try and show them what it means to be a follower of Christ – that they, who ever they are, have value and worth. That Christ died for them as much as for us and that they, too, can be accepted. We may not like what they stand for, or what they do but we should love them, selflessly, as Christ does.

Oh, following Christ is far harder than not following him. Jesus is not selective – he loves everyone.

Now I take strength in the fact that Jesus never said we have to like everyone, just love them. That I can try to do….

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Accordions

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Accordion to a recent survey, replacing words with the names of musical instruments often goes undetected.

(Ignore the spelling mistake – the perpetrator has been punished!)

Did you see the error in the sign? (Not the spelling mistake.) Did you notice the musical instrument? Read it again – did you see it this time?

If you missed it how many other things do you miss every day? Things that are familiar or unwanted become almost invisible to us.

Years ago, when I was a minister in Wales I dressed as a homeless guy and sat in front of the church on a Sunday morning. I made exactly £1.27 in the hour before worship, most of it from people who didn’t go into church. NO ONE who went into the service spared one moment for the homeless guy outside the gates of their church. I was totally invisible – the accordion in our sign.

The accordion is a great metaphor for the lost of society. There are very few people who like the accordion as an instrument and even played well it is not a glamorous one. You are not going to impress the girl next door by saying, “I pay the accordion, you know.” The accordion is best left alone…see what I mean?

Do we see the big issue seller on the streets of the city? The homeless person sitting outside the library? The person with a disability on the train? Do we remember the hidden asylum seekers in the camps? Our world is full of accordions – and it was these people that Jesus showed are the most important. He spoke to lepers (unheard of in his time), he dined with tax collectors and ‘sinners’ (simply just not done), he spent his time with prostitutes (and not in the way everybody else did) and walked with outcasts, the lowest of the low. The individuals most people miss are the ones Jesus made a beeline for – the accordions.

As Christian people, well, just as people we should take more notice of those around us and think of the accordions in the world.

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Jesus is a Melbourne Rebel

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Jesus was always a rebel.

Today he is a Melbourne Rebel.

It’s hard for us to understand just how much of a rebel this man from Nazareth truly was. His message was so revolutionary that he was killed because of it. In a time when there was segregation at every turn, Jesus accepted everyone. In a place where women were seen as processions, he treated them as equals. To those who were shunned by society and the church of the day he went to dinner, shared a drink and enjoyed their company. He took the norms of society, upended them and showed what true love of humanity is. He spoke out about oppression, injustice and freedom.

We have nothing to compare him to – he was more of an activist than Bono or Sir Bob. More concerned with the state of humanity than Mandela or Tutu. More radical than Lady Gaga and more than a rebel than anyone I can think of.

Jesus was a true rebel! He was unique – he was special.

Now as we are talking of special – let me tell you about a group of special rugby players. Once every 12 years there comes a special tour, the Lions come to Australia.

The British and Irish Lions arrive and, for those of us who love rugby, it is the most exciting of tours. The best players of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the odd one or two from England join together and take on the ‘provincial’ teams from around Australia and then the might of the Wallabies.

This week the Lions play the Melbourne Rebels. It is, without doubt, the biggest game in the short history of the Rebels, a chance to face the greatest touring team that only visits once or maybe twice in any players career. The Melbourne Rebels are so far the underdogs that it is impossible to imagine an scenario where they can beat the Lions.

Now I read in the Bible that Jesus was always for the underdogs of society. Therefore, I say, today Jesus is a Melbourne Rebel!

So, as he is everywhere, he and I will go to the game and cheer on the Rebels. We will watch them lose (he tends not to do miracles in sport and he did help Brisbane over the weekend it seems) and we will enjoy the spectacular game.

Jesus the rebel will watch the Melbourne Rebels and then ask us to be as rebellious as him. Love the unloved and unlovely, see all as equals and work for a better and fairer world for all.

True rebels!

In the same way we cheer on our rebels at AAMI – listen for his voice when we show loyalty to his rebellion –

“C’mon Rebels!”

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I have decided to stick with love

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Since I was about 14 and my mother gave me a book of speeches for Christmas (I know I was an odd child) I have loved the words of Martin Luther King Jnr. Written down his words are moving, demanding attention and action. It was a few years later that I heard a recording of that famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. I’d marvelled at the power of it on paper but to hear it – it blew me away – and still does every time I listen to it. The rhythm, the pace, the delivery is as close to perfect as any speech I have every heard but far more than that is the passion and the content. How anyone cannot be moved when they it is beyond me.
(Here’s a link to a short version of it in case you want to hear it.)

Over the years I have read more and more of the words of MLK. Some of his lesser known speeches are every bit as powerful as the ones that the world knows so well.

Yesterday I stumbled upon my “Speeches of Martin Luther King Jnr” book again and start to browse it. It is a sort of yearly ritual – I re-find the book on one of my shelves and dip into it and then get hooked and read it through again. Every year some new words or phrases jump out at me. So far this year it is the words from a speech called “Where do we go from here?” delivered in August 1967 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. The words in brackets are the audience responses.

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. (Yes) And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. (No) And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. (Yes) For I have seen too much hate. (Yes) I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. (Yeah) I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. (Yes, That’s right) I have decided to love. [applause] If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”

(The full speech, including the vocal responses from those in attendance, is available at: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/publications/speeches/Where_do_we_go_from_here.html) and © the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. are copyrighted by the King Estate.

The words that are so often pulled from this speech (and the ones for our sign this week) are “I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Now I want to write a wonderful blog on those words but I can’t measure up to the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. If I try to commentate on them I feel I will just detract from their impact. Instead I want you to read that passage again and I’ve bolded the bits I want you to take notice of…

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”

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Achievement has no colour

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“Achievement has no colour.”

So said Abraham Lincoln about 150 years ago. Great words if only the world would heed them. But it doesn’t, this blog is inspired by a 13 year old Collingwood fan and her racial taunts to Adam Goodes.

Those of you who know me will know that I don’t take a huge interest in A.F.L. Football. I watch it and I now know (after 13 years I might add) roughly what’s going on. I have played and watched enough sport though to know that to make it to the top requires dedication and skill. Week in, week out through training and preparation and through sacrifice and hard work players earn their places at the top. If you can make it into an A.F.L. team you’re obviously no dud (even the Melbourne Demons players have great skills, and that’s saying something seeing how they have played this year).

And as Abe said, those achievements have no colour. The blood, sweat and tears of every player are the same no matter what colour their skin is. The dedication and sacrifices involved in reaching the elite level in any sport are massive and well done to those who make it.

We all have our favourite teams, even our favourite players but our desire to see our ‘boys’ (or ‘girls’) play well shouldn’t blind us to the fact that the opposition have also worked hard to get where they are.

I’m no Sydney Swans fan and I don’t know enough to have any real feelings about Adam Goodes as a player. He’s won a premiership so he’s obviously no slouch but I can’t tell you if he’s a super star or Mr. Mediocre but I must say I’m impressed with the dignity, courage and humility he’s displayed over the last few days, in the wake of the incident and in how he’s handled the apology. I just think back to Eric Cantona in 1995 and how he reacted to see how bad it could have been. (Goggle it, it’s a very famous incident.)

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No one should have to endure racial abuse at work (or anywhere else for that matter), if you are a cleaner, a teacher or a footballer it’s just not acceptable, and Adam Goodes was just doing his job. That his job has him working in front of 80,000 people makes no difference – racism has no place in sport and no place in society. Well done Adam Goodes, not for playing well but for doing well in handling a situation you should never have been put into.

Back in the 1990’s I was involved with the U.K.’s “Let’s kick racism out of football” campaign. A movement that is still working hard for racial equality on the pitch and in the stands. It’s sad that its still needed but it does great work in raising awareness and changing peoples’ attitudes. Another, less well known campaign, but one that is gaining momentum, especially in the United States, is one that is summed up by this tweet from my friends the monks at the Unvirtuous Abbey – “For those who think Jesus was an English-speaking white man with blue eyes, Lord, in your brown-skinned, Aramaic-speaking, brown-eyed mercy forgive.”

It’s not just sport where racism is rife. Unfortunately it is also alive and kicking in some churches and as mentioned in a previous blog on one of Steve Taylor’s songs, “Racism in the name of Christianity cannot be tolerated.” For just as achievement has no colour neither does the love of God.

As disciples of Jesus we should be completely colour blind – to the point where all we see is a child of God, another human being. Enough said – let’s act…

Racism – it stops with me!

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7 billion

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Seven billion on earth. Most live in poverty. Make a difference.

I’ve just read Dan Brown’s new book ‘Inferno’. Enjoyable – if you like that sort of thing. This blog is not a book review and I will not reveal the plot but it does deal with the very theme of this week’s sign.

The population of the world.

Seven billion is a huge number – inconceivable to most people. The MCG holds close to 100,000 people for the Grand Final or the Boxing Day Test and that’s a big crowd – now imagine 100 MCG’s, 1000 MCG’s. It’s not a number we can easily imagine – well try 70,000 MCG’s. That’s roughly the population of our planet.

Now take 56,000 of those stadia (5.6 billion people) and tell them that they have to live on less than $10 a day.

15,680 of those MCG’s worth of people (over 1.5 billion humans) live in absolute poverty, that is below US$1.25 a day.

The numbers are mind boggling – we cannot possibly fathom them. To make it easier let us imagine the world’s population as 10 people.

Of those 10 people – 8 of them would live in poverty.
Of those 10 people – 5 of them would live on under $2.50
Of those 10 people – 2 (and a bit) of them would live on under $1.25 a day.
Of those 10 people – 5 live in cities and 3 of those 5 live in slums.
Of those 10 people – 2.5 of them live without electricity.
Of those 10 people – 3 of them have enough food to eat each day, 7 of them don’t.
Of those 10 people – 1 of them (actually less than 1 of them) has more than $300 in a bank account.

The figures are terrifying. Look at these facts –

In 2008 the population of Europe spent US$11 billion on ice cream. Experts estimate to supply safe water to all the people of the world would cost US$9 billion. Less than what one continent spends on ice cream!

It would be around US$19 billion to give everyone a basic education and access to basic health care and nutrition. Only slightly more than what Europe and North America spend on pet food (US$17 billion).

In 1998 (last reliable figures) the world spent approximately US$800 billion on military acquisitions. One tenth of that would eradicate the need for foreign aid spending and give EVERYONE on the planet access to basic healthcare, water, food AND education with billions of dollars to spare.

Now I know that I cannot change the world – neither can you (unless you happen to be Barak Obama or someone like that, in which case ring me, we NEED to talk) but you can change your world – the little sphere you live in.

If we all changed a little then those changes would reverberate across our planet. Imagine the change if one of those 10 people (or 10% of the world’s population) decided to make a difference. Not only would they change but the lives of millions of others would too.

What can we do? What difference can you or I make?

Take a look at the Global Poverty Project’s website for some simple ideas. Here’s link to their blog on what everyday people can do…

http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/blog/view/281

Make a difference!

You cannot change the world but you can change you and if enough ‘yous’ change then so does the world.

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For the Will & Grace to know all people are equal

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For those who read this blog regularly I’m quite sure I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but there are A LOT of people who haven’t grasped this simple principle yet –

GOD LOVES EVERYONE

I can’t say it often enough, or loud enough, or strongly enough – God loves you.

Not for what you will be, or what you can be but he loves you for what you are. Listen to Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this way’. She understands the idea.

Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient

Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby, you were born this way

No matter gay, straight or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive

No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to be brave

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

What’s so hard to grasp? Why do I have to repeat it again and again and again?

God loves you as you are, each one of you. And, here’s the problem for us, he calls us to do the same.

In this, and I shudder to say it but, there is so much we can learn from cheesy American sit coms. Take Will & Grace or Friends or the Big Bang Theory, some funny shows with some funny lines but like them or not they go out of their way to show the equality of their characters, no matter what their differences.

In Friends we saw how strong women characters can compete in a male dominated world. Monica, Rachel and Phoebe proved it to us every week.

Big Bang makes intelligent geeks cool but also shows that being intelligent or geeky doesn’t make you better than anyone else. How often do we see Sheldon knock on Penny’s door for help?knock, knock, knock Penny,
knock, knock, knock Penny,
knock, knock, knock Penny.

Will & Grace remind us, every week, that there are gay people living in our world, yes even in Melbourne, maybe even coming to the Melbourne Welsh Church, and that shouldn’t be an issue.

Yes we laugh with them (sometimes), or at least at them, but we also learn from them. The things that make us different, our skin colour, our gender, our wealth, our geek factor, our sexual orientations are all seen in these shows and are shown not as failures of character or bad things but as positive differences.

We, who try to follow Jesus, are called to a life of love and service. Not a life of weakness but one of strength. It takes a lot of will & grace to love people – especially people who you don’t like, or don’t get on with. (Fortunately we’re not called to like everybody, only to love them, but that’s hard enough.) We are not blind to who or what people are – we are commanded to love them despite their differences, perhaps because of them. God does….

I’m sure that when he looks at me and he sees past the short, handsome, funny, brilliant, deluded Welshman – and sees his child with huge possibilities, amazing potential – someone he loves. And that is what God sees in everyone. Why can’t we?

So our prayer for this Pentecost week is that we are given the Will (power) and Grace (of God) to remember that God does not look at the differences, he looks at the heart. So let us love as he loves, unconditionally; not counting the cost but seeing all people as just that – people – with hopes, and dreams, with hurts and worries. People with a God that loves them whether they know it or not.

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We strive for excellense

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We strive for excellense.

We never quite make it – but we strive. (And to all those who have let us know our sign is misspelled – thank you. It was quite deliberate.)

People outside the church have this strange view that all of us church goers think we’re perfect and that we’re better than everyone else. It is the case that there are vocal elements in (what we we broadly call) the church who do this. They are the definite minority. For those who truly follow Jesus the opposite is usually more of the problem. We actually know how imperfect we are and that we are in no way better than others, far too often church people undersell their gifts and don’t live up to their massive, God given potential.

There are no perfect churches either, just as there are no perfect people. We see the church as a hospital for sinners not an escape zone for saints. We, at the Melbourne Welsh Church, are well aware of of lot of our faults (I’m sure there are some we haven’t noticed) but we are also conscious of what we can do. We are continually striving for excellense – always aiming higher – in churchy language – all wanting to be more Christ-like. Our doors are open to ANYONE – no matter who you are. We make a conscious and definite effort to be a radically inclusive church. If you make that first step and walk in, we will endeavour to make you feel welcome. We know that how we do things doesn’t suit everyone (we have an organ not a band) but, even if you choose not to come back, it will not be because you were not made welcome and we try to make sure that welcome is universal no matter what your race / back ground / gender / sexual orientation / insert other discriminational phrase here. Yes, we are proud to say we are Christians but we are not bigots!

If you choose to stay we promise to try and ensure that you are part of a loving and welcoming community that worships God and works like Jesus (well tries to). We will encourage you to be part of that welcome you received and aim to help you fulfil your potential in the church and outside. We see Christianity as a way of life not an hour long activity on a Sunday.

We are not perfect – far from it – even our sign writer gets it wrong – but we will strive to make ourselves better, more Christ-like and to us that means being welcoming, loving, caring, serving, working. We see the radical Jesus as our role model. The one who welcomed the outcasts of his time, the ones the world and religious folk said were worthless and we’re trying to be like him.

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Scotland’s national animal

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Goggle “Scotland’s national animal.” Go on. Do it.

Thanks to @rev_david for tweeting this.

Now I was going to do a long blog on the mystical person of God and how we see him and understand him. I have even been given a great quote from the play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead to illustrate this.

But why? Why do we have to be serious all the time? – let’s relax for a while, goggle Scotland’s national animal and have a little laugh.

After all God has a sense of humour (he ordained me, what more proof do you need?) so why shouldn’t we enjoy a little giggle now and again?

So off you go, google Scotland’s national animal and smile for a while. It’ll bring you a little closer to God, for he smiles on you all the time, whether you know or not.

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Tin roof, rusted!

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Verily, verily I say unto thee, Tin roof, rusted!

Ok, I admit it, this week’s sign is a little obscure – but if you are of a certain age and listened to the radio you will know what it’s all about, if you have no idea I suggest you watch this (or look up b52s Love Shack on google) before reading any more.

So you’re back – that’s 4:19 secs of your life you’ll never see again but you’ve come out of it as a wiser person. (In one of two ways; either you’ll never click on another link I offer you or you now know what this blog is all about!) But if this blog does nothing else, it has put a happy tune in your head that will be going round there for quite a while – admit it, go on, your singing it to yourself right now.

So for the big news – I’m going to rename the church – THE LOVE SHACK.

Cool isn’t it? I’m so hip, trendy and with it, and the first person to point out to me that the song was released over 20 years ago will be subject to my version of excommunication. (I have literally no idea how I will back up that threat.)

THE LOVE SHACK – will be open for worship on Sunday.

But seriously, think about it – parts of the song could be written about what the church should be.

“The love shack is a little old place where we can get together.” It’s the church – read the line again… it’s what we should be all about – relationships, love, community. The church should be a place where people can get together, it should be a place packed with love – for God, for others – whoever they are.

“Love rules at the love shack,” Again, isn’t that the most spot on line to describe the church – and if we’re not a community where love rules then we are doing the most basic things wrong. Remember what Jesus said, (strategically placed Bible quote ahead), “Love The Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself.” The rule of love is, and should be, at the very heart of the church. It is central to the work, the message and the life of the church and if it isn’t we should seriously re-examine what we think the Church should be.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that not all the lyrics of Love Shack fit the Church –

“Folks lining up outside just to get down” is not a line that sums up most church buildings or church communities, but we can hope and pray that the love we spread around reaps results, and that others will see Jesus in what we do and follow in his footsteps (or should that be dance steps).

“Glitter on the highway, glitter on the front porch.” We had confetti canons at Christmas and the care taker went nuts cleaning up the mess – glitter may be going too far, even for me!

“Huggin’ and a kissin’, dancin’ and a lovin’; wearing next to nothing ’cause it’s as hot as an oven.” Is wrong on so many levels as an analogy of the church and yet (like that terrible Batman and Robin film with George Clooney ) it’s so wrong it’s almost right. Notice the word ‘almost’ there. It’s terribly important – that line is almost right. Without wishing to offend most people within our church community,Ii would like to (strongly) point out that if it gets that hot that you want to wear “next to nothing” please go and stand under the air conditioners before undressing and I promise to grant you the same courtesy. I do like the “dancin’ and a lovin'” bit though. The Church could do with more dancing and since love is what we are about, you can never have enough!

The Love Shack is a little old place where we can get together…. Welcome to Church. A place of love, acceptance, tolerance and not enough dancing.

Oh and be careful where you stand…why?

Three words…

Tin roof, rusted!

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