From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
Over a Friday evening and the following Saturday in July, twenty-six people from across the Presbytery participated in the 2022 “Out of the Box” Missional Conference organised by Uniting Mission and Education of the Synod. Most of this number connected in via zoom, while a handful attended in person at the Centre for Ministry in North Parramatta.
The keynote speakers for the conference were Rev Tim Costello, Executive Director of Micah Australia, and Rev Ellie Elia from Glenbrook UC. The Saturday morning began early with lighting the Umu (an earth oven of hot rocks – like the Māori hungi) and an introduction around the fire to Umu Spirituality. Between the master class electives, the food from the Umu was part of lunch followed by a presentation panel exploring more of Umu Spirituality.
Here are some of the highlights for participants in the conference.
I was honoured to be asked to speak about GRACE Faith Community on a panel led by Drs Karina Kreminski and Armen Gakavian. I was excited to be seated next to Lauren Harkness of Rise Sanctuaries on a panel of 4 people talking about pioneering ministry; great to be part of a Presbytery that represented half of this panel! I shared about the innovation that GRACE Faith Community has initiated in its lifetime, the challenges and the joys that have been shared with me during my sojourn with GRACE as a supply pastor. There was resonance in GRACE’s approach to community and the image of the common table [or Umu], which sits at the heart of our missional imagination. Whether the table is set with taro and coconut, chips and fizzy drink, bread and wine, deep conversations or a board game – we as a church can exist in new and exciting ways; and Jesus welcomes all to come and be fed.
Pastor Amy Junor, GRACE Faith Community (and Presbytery Administration Officer)
I’ve been to many conferences at the Centre for Ministry at North Parramatta over the years—some good, some reasonable, a few quite poor, and a select few brilliant! Out of the Box 2022 held up pretty well in that company. It demonstrates the strength of commitment to the good news amongst our people. It had lively moments and reflective opportunities; there were challenging comments and constructive contributions. I “went” (that is, I logged in online) along with a good dozen folks from the Congregation where my membership is held—how good to have such a strong level of interest and commitment to mission in the local context! With my Presbytery beanie on (to keep my head warm), I was really pleased to see folks from another seven Congregations participating—another excellent sign of strong commitment to missional engagement with the community right across our Presbytery. And already there are conversations amongst those participants about working more collaboratively in regional ways. All in all, lots of positive vibes, and much hope for our next steps together.
Rev Dr John Squires, Presbytery Minister – Wellbeing.
There were so many ideas and special moments in this conference, that it is really hard to squeeze them into a paragraph!
I think for me, many of the really special things were the intangibles … the sense of hope and inspiration, and that change is really possible. I also felt a real sense of community, even online.
Some of the special moments for me were also small … little thought bubbles that set off a train of ideas. Some examples:
-Ellie’s congregation using the Catholic Church because it is larger. Of course, and why not? And yet for many of us, we really need to shake out of our old assumptions to do it.
-Her statement that for any change, there will be people who are reluctant, but ‘you just keep going ‘ (my paraphrase) … personally, I can get too caught up in believing that I need everyone on board to start, or get discouraged too quickly.
-Some of the mission as art Ellie’s Lenten project was amazing, but also some in online video clips from overseas in the ‘Creative Imagination’ workshop.
-A comment about Christian art on a video that ‘it doesn’t need to be perfect of finished, sometimes we try too hard to make it fit the Christian rules and by doing so lose its impact.’ For me this had implications on trying to do mission as well.
-I also loved the UMU panel and their reminders about hospitality. We do connect through food, and some of our growing activities ( eg Rainbow Christian Alliance) are based on connecting through food, but in our everyday Aussie culture, I think we have often forgotten it in our rush to be productive. I was reminded that I and many people of my generation (boomers) used to always connect over a Sunday roast in childhood, often offering hospitality to others as well, so it got me reflecting on how to develop this idea more in my own ways of connecting.
I especially enjoyed the demonstration and metaphor from the Korean women on the panel, mixing many ingredients to make a beautiful blend.
Sue Wald, Tuggeranong Uniting Church
Next week will include even more highlights from the conference. “Out of the Box” is an annual Missional Conference. Hopefully, these highlights inspire you to be part of it in 2023!