Holy Disruptions

21 Jun 2020 by Rev Dr Paul Chalson in: Letters, Thoughts, News

From Rev Dr Paul Chalson
Minister at Canberra City Uniting Church

Since gathering restrictions have been in place, Canberra City Uniting Church has been posting each Sunday a pre-recorded video worship event. These include videos readings, prayers and music, which have commonly done by members of the congregation. As well there are short reflective messages and other, multimedia, content. Throughout the process, we have been trying, whilst remaining within a familiar structure, to create something that both takes advantage of the visual media we are employing and which is generally engaging. That two other Uniting Church congregations (currently without ministers) share these videos within their membership and some people from around the world and others who have no other current connection with any church view these videos has revealed the possibilities such media presents.

Through it all, my favourite experience of the process was one that happened between others and myself as we were physically present to each other. I was preparing to video the message for our Pentecost service. In keeping with the story recounted in Acts chapter 2, I had filmed each of my segments in the plaza onto which the church opens. For the reflection/sermon, I had positioned myself under some trees by Rudd St so that my background included the Northbourne Ave, Rudd St intersection and the light rail. As I was preparing to film three workers from one of the nearby office buildings came to sit on the bench seats and eat their lunch together. After a brief conversation in which we agreed that neither was going to bother the other, I recorded my short message. As I finished, these three people engaged me in a short but lively conversation that touched on the content of my message, the church’s activity during the pandemic and our own personal life experiences of the pandemic. Whilst I had gone into a public space to record my message I did not expect that anyone would then want to speak to me about it. It was a good moment.

As we have passed through this time of social distancing and restrictions on gatherings it is true to say that the church has experienced disruption. For an institution often resistant to subtle change, we have proven ourselves capable of rapid adaptation and major change. The very essence of being able to meet and pray together which is core in our practice of faith has been desperately missed. However, we have continued to be the church active in the ministry of Christ.
At both Canberra City and To e Talatalanoa we have been conscious of the need to

  • maintain worship, fellowship, discipleship and care amongst the people of the two congregations
  • continue to minister into the community, expressing the love and grace of God in deed and word.

The two congregations, separately and together, have explored creative and varied ways to respond. Members have learnt to become adept at video conferencing technology and sharing large files online. To e Talatalanoa has distributed weekly worship material to enable households to pray together each Sunday. Study and fellowship groups as well as committees and councils are amongst the numerous groups worldwide meeting online. Pastoral carers ring around those on their care lists to offer support and prayer. City@Night, the evening worship gathering of Canberra City Uniting Church, meets each week by video conferencing with members exploring creative ways of worshipping and fellowship together via this medium. Through the worship videos, we seek to encourage active participation rather than passive watching. Members, who for various reasons were no longer able to physically attend church, have been able to reengage in the fellowship of the church. The Early Morning Centre’s ministry to those experiencing homelessness continues in a modified way but one continues to offer crucial services including meals, the opportunity to shower and flu injections.

Through our intersection notice board and the use of social media, we have sort to offer messages of encouragement and social comment. We are about to experiment with launching a monthly video interview posted to our YouTube channel.
We have been disrupted by the impact of this global pandemic. Given the terrible toll this virus has inflicted worldwide, none of us would have wanted this disruption and we yearn for the development of effective vaccine. Yet the disruption has served for us a holy purpose. It has disrupted our habitual following of familiar paths and inspired creative thinking and discovery of alternate ways of being the church. It has created a moment to pause and recognize what is core to who we are, and what is dispensable. It has heightened our value of each other and those things such as being able to have a cuppa together, to sing together and even touch that we so took for granted. It has indeed created a moment when others have become interested in the church and its message.

Our challenge as the language of “the road back” begins to emerge is to take the opportunity to reflect on who God wants us to be into the future and to indeed, not seek a road back but the road forward which Jesus leads us in.