Blessed are the little flowers
Is small beautiful? That depends on your perspective. As our General Secretary recently reminded us, what we see depends on where we stand.
I have recently been privileged to meet and share with a number of smallUnitingChurchcongregations. Some are little and growing, others are struggling.
They do however have a few things in common along with their size. In each case they have one or a few key lay people who are carrying significant loads of pastoral care and worship, sometimes including funeral services for other members of the community.
Often under-supported and usually overtaxed, they are nevertheless doing an amazing work of ministry and mission. In each case these small communities of faith are connected to their local communities and other churches in fellowship and service. This is particularly important in the Riverina, where the communities themselves are struggling to maintain their morale in the face of an uncertain future due to pending decisions to reduce water allocations for irrigation.
One perspective is that, given the age profile of these congregations, they are unlikely to be viable for much longer.
That is not what I see.
What is important is what is happening now. Committed people are serving God and one another. That is what we are called to do. Why should we doubt that the God who is with us now will embrace us in the future, whatever happens?
Is small beautiful?
I have recently been studying the Beatitudes while preparing addresses for two events: an ordination and the opening service of the academic year at UTC. In each case the Beatitudes were chosen as the Gospel reading though not the lectionary reading for the week. We are not even in the year of Matthew. New and risky paths indeed!
As both services were about beginnings, I paid special attention to how the Beatitudes start. The first three are “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is theKingdomofHeaven”, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” and “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Really surprising when one considers conventional wisdom about how to succeed in life!
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, this wisdom of Jesus is entirely consistent with what he taught and how he lived; what Richard Rohr calls “The way of littleness”, which he sees to be the pre-eminent way to God.
For Jesus the “little ones”, be they children, the poor and marginalised, or his disciples, hold the keys to theKingdomofHeaven.
Another who embraced this “little” way, Carmelite nun St Therese of Lisieux, became known as “The little flower”. Subsequent to her death from TB, aged 24, she was beatified on the grounds of her deep spirituality and the healing power of her intercessions. That which seems small and insignificant in our eyes is not necessarily so in the eyes of God.
Yes, we are deeply grateful to God for our big churches, our thriving congregations, our impressive institutions and the committed people who drive their mission. Yet there is no doubt that, in the sight of God, small is beautiful.
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown, Moderator