From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
For the meeting of Presbytery that was held on Saturday 15 August, a series of four video interviews with congregations were prepared to help members of Presbytery get ready for group discussions during the meeting. The videos worked a treat in stimulating the thinking of members of Presbytery, and they might do the same for you. This week I’d like to share the video from Eurobodalla with you, along with how it got me thinking.
You can view the video through this link – https://vimeo.com/447648198/e40c32e225 A huge thank you to Amy from our Presbytery Office for organising the interview and making it available to us. Thank you as well to Kay and Duncan from Eurobodalla for being part of the interview.
The interview engages conversation around the challenges Eurobodalla might be facing if the social restrictions for COVID are extended for another 12 months or more, and also asks about shifts that have happened (or might be coming) for the life of the congregation because of the extended restrictions. It is the conversation around these shifts that got me thinking.
Duncan and Kay explain that the congregation has been blessed to receive financial donations for distribution to people and businesses in the local community affected by the summer bushfires. Part of the blessing is that the responsibility for distributing the funds has made the church community “look out”. This looking out to the needs of the local community means that the congregation is not just focussed on whether or not they are able to regather in person for worship. I find it a powerful moment in the video when Duncan throws out his arm and lifts up his eyes as he speaks about looking out to the local community. Duncan describes this as being the secret to the congregation’s future.
It is this shift to engaging with their local community that captures my attention. That engaging with the local community has been part of some very moving moments as church folk met with people still affected by the fires who thought they had been forgotten, and are so overwhelmed by being remembered with gifts of first aid kits, bikes and gift cards. A part of the interview that intrigued me was when Duncan went on to describe that the gifts are backed up with the idea that the fire affected people are “being held”. Some further information from Eurobodalla helped me understand that in part the church folk are conveying the sense of “being held” by a card they designed for accompanying the gifts.
You can see the image below from the front of the card – a photo by one of the congregation members.
The words inside the card include the following:
This is a small gift from the local Uniting Church
to let you know we are thinking of you.
Recovery from the fires will take time.
If we can assist by taking a few steps beside you
on the journey, know that we are here.
Congregation members took great care with the message conveyed by the photo and the words, and I think it shows. From this messaging I get the sense that the gift comes with no strings attached, and still there is the hopeful presence of the church. It feels like grace to me.
I wonder how you interpret the phrase in the message: “know that we are here”. Do you understand “here” to mean the address of the church – come to us? Or do you understand “here” to mean the location of the recipient of the gift – the church with you? I think it is important for us to think of ourselves as a church that both invites people to come and also goes to be with the world, in the same pattern we see in God coming to the world in Jesus. It is this pattern of God coming to the world in Jesus that means fresh expressions of church (from the Mission Shaped Ministry course our Presbytery has been running) do not envisage people coming to join in with the expression of church on Sunday mornings that makes sense to us, but that a new expression of church will arise that makes sense for where they are at – it is church coming to them.
“Looking out” is important for acts of loving service with our local communities. “Looking out” is also important for finding fresh expressions of church that arise out of that loving service, and that will provide opportunities for people to gather around Christ in ways that make sense to them without expecting they will turn up to how we like church on Sunday mornings.
The video interview with Eurobodalla sure sparked a lot of thoughts for me. I wonder what thoughts it sparked for you?