From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
The call to join in Gospel Yarning 2021 had gone out to anyone who is passionate about Jesus and wants people to follow in his way - those who communicate in word and deed, those who are invitational and hospitable and may not even want to be called an ‘evangelist’, those who listen as well as speak, those who can share their own story and hear another person’s story, those who are confident yet humble, those who can work with the rest of the church in God’s mission, those who can lead, but also serve. Those who have the heart to help people discover Christ and their God‐given passion, purpose, and place in this world – male, female, young or old.
People responded from across the Uniting Church in Australia to include people from almost every state and Territory.
Over three days in late February thirteen people from our Presbytery joined the “Gospel Yarning” Conference at the Centre for Ministry in North Parramatta. Some of us were there in-person while others of us zoomed in to the sessions. Over a few editions of this newsletter we are hearing from participants about their experiences of the conference. This week we hear from Peter Howe (Tathra Congregation) and Duncan McDiarmid (Eurobodalla Congregation).
One impression was the diversity of the people at the conference. I talked a lot with First Nations people from Australia, Niue, Fiji, Samoa, Fiji and Tonga and can’t help thinking that I have a lot to learn from them about community. It’s pretty clear to me that the community Jesus grew up in was much closer to a First Nations community than the ones I grew up in. I’m more convinced than ever that we’re all here to build community with God, each other, the people around us and the whole of Creation.
The main idea I’m taking away from these three days is the centrality of stories to all of our lives. Peter Hobson from Wesley Mission in Brisbane had a huge influence on my thinking. I can’t write a one sentence quote to sum up what Peter taught. It took three days with pre-presentations online and much questioning and discussion, but I’ve come away with much more confidence that Christianity is best described (duh!) in the Gospel stories!!! I also realise in a deepening way that we all process these stories in our own way at our own stage of spiritual growth. The challenge for me as a lay preacher is to not impose my own idea of the meaning of a passage, but to open the story up so the Spirit touches people in their own spiritual place.
I must admit that when I came to this conference I was wondering about the future of the Uniting Church. For what it’s worth, here’s my impression. The future is exciting.
Why? Because I see people freely questioning, opening up, accepting with generous spirits the different ways that others see reality. We’re not stuck in a fixed paradigm. We’re open to what is happening in our world and not afraid to participate in the healing. I see a strong understanding that Jesus is active among us and I see evidence of the courage that brings, especially in our leaders. It’s all there in the gospel stories, and our future is in how we let the Gospel stories become our story. The future is exciting. Exciting. Jesus is taking us to a new place over a stormy sea.
What an exciting and intriguing time at Gospel Yarning. I engage more effectively in dialogue than in formats of presentation. For me, the open space sessions were the highlight of the conference. These sessions allowed the open space for people to name and gather around agenda items that they care about. I enjoyed the session led by Mark Kickett on indigenous engagement especially as to leadership in the covenant space, and also a follow-up session facilitated by Nathan Tyson to address the overflow of Mark's discussion.
Peter Howe from Tathra identified a great way to engage with the indigenous community. Rather than invite First Peoples to be involved with his congregation's worship, they invited themselves to worship with the local indigenous gathering.
The action plans at the end of the conference saw people signing up to help progress the open space items that they care about. I see these small signs as signs of some progress and am much heartened by them.
The conference also included a great deal of unscripted discussion and the offering of a broad range of resources that spiced the gaps between program items. The oikos groups at the end of each day were a positive way to debrief the very busy and sometimes challenging days.
More stories next week!