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 the next few weeks we’ll hear from participants about their experiences of the conference. This week we hear from Bill Lang (Tuggeranong Congregation) and Christina Lee (Canberra Korean Congregation).
I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in Gospel Yarning 2021, though I confess I did not anticipate how much three days on Zoom would affect me! As preparation, we were invited to watch a series of video presentations from the keynote speaker, the Rev Dr Peter Hobson from Wesley Mission in Brisbane, and the sessional speakers. The talks from Andy Broadbent from Bussleton WA and Tim Robinson, chaplain at Knox School, Sydney, were particularly inspirational, though all were very good. I quite liked Peter Hobson’s notion of “followship” in place of discipleship - it gave us something to think about.
The session that resonated with me was on Friday - Growth is Hard Work which wsd led by Rev Andy Broadbent and focussed on his time at Bussleton. I found many parallels for our own context in Tuggeranong, particularly in the area of bringing change, not just growth. Two of the key things were about changing the focus of missional activity; and changing expectations around worship. There are possibilities for our Tuggeranong context to use Andy’s experience to stimulate discussion, and hopefully, change, in our settings here in Canberra. I also gained insight from Rev Tim Robinson from The Knox School, whose theme was Communicating with Young People. While Tim applies these in a particular context of a school and its surrounding community, it is not difficult to see the principles as a template for a congregation’s reaching out and being incarnational in its own community. There are strong take outs for us and I am hopeful we can take these lessons into our planning.
A key part of the conference was the interactions with others in smaller settings. The format was an “Open Space” Zoom group where people could nominate topics to advance some discussion around topics to address the question “what action will we now take?” I nominated a topic “How do we transition to a post-Covid church?’ as I felt it was important to brainstorm some practical measures that relate to our real experience. In Tuggeranong we will use these ideas as a springboard for discussion and actions. I also valued the end-of-day session called “OIKOS” - or small group discussion with the idea of processing the day’s conversations and experiences. I was lucky enough to be in a group with Elizabeth Raine and Amelia Koh-Butler and we were able to have some honest conversation about each days input.
I came away from this experience encouraged by our leadership, and excited about the possibilities if we have the courage to apply some of these lessons. Certainly at Tuggeranong we have already begun the process with conversations in our church council. I thank the presbytery for the opportunity to participate in the Gospel Yarning Conference.
For such a time as this, how incredible that so many of us could join this conference from all across the country. As a growing Christian, I entered this conference very eager to be encouraged and inspired. For me, the highlight of this conference was the OpenSpace groups. I truly enjoyed how we could choose to join a group that interests us and stay for as long as we would like. On Day One of the conference, I was drawn to a group titled “Rural Ministry” for two reasons. Firstly, I never had the opportunity to speak to anyone involved in rural ministry and secondly, I had a strange feeling that this is where I can learn to become more confident in living out my faith. In this virtual meeting, I had the pleasure of speaking to Nigel and Annette who taught me so much in a short span of time. Nigel and Annette encouraged me to live out my faith through my character. In particular, what Nigel said really stuck with me: “always preach the gospel, and only use words sometimes”. I was inspired by their commitment in sharing the gospel with rural communities and consequently, I was encouraged to focus more on how I am living out my daily life as a Christian instead of always thinking about what I should say. In another conversation, when I questioned which story from the Bible I should share with my friends that are non-Christians, I was advised to share my story, how and why I follow Jesus. Overall, I am truly grateful for what this conference has gifted me with and I am utterly encouraged and inspired to be a more confident Christian in my own community.