Change…for the sake of the Kingdom
I have had the good fortune to spend some time in England at Greenbelt — a three-day Christian festival where I was exposed to all sorts of music, a wide range of alternative and more traditional worship, speakers many and varied and, for a bit of fun, participated with about 60 amazingly talented young people in a “scratch panto” (Cinderella) in which I played the wicked step-mother.
In addition there were significant times of reflection with those travelling in the Australian group led by Nicole Fleming and Cheryl Lawrie.
After Greenbelt some in our group spent time with Methodist and Church of England leaders in a movement called “Fresh Expressions”. Both denominations are investing considerable financial and human resources to develop fresh expressions of church alongside traditional models. One of our interests was to learn how to foster fresh expressions of church within a denominational setting often bound by rules, regulations and traditions which do not encourage new ways of living out and giving expression to faith.
I came away from those discussions believing that the Uniting Church — with our emphasis on the role and gifting of the laity, the significant numbers of lay people who are being theologically trained, the openness of our structures and the acceptance of a variety of worship styles — has a greater potential to foster new ways of being than there is in the churches in England.
Yet they seem to be ahead of us. I was impressed that the Methodist Church was investing considerable resources (millions of pounds) into identifying and supporting up to 20 pioneer ministers (lay and ordained) to begin new ministries among those between 18 and 35 years of age.
Through this experience and the opportunity to reflect with those in my group ( Nicole Fleming, the Rev. Dr Clive Pearson, the Rev (almost Dr) David Reichardt, the Rev. Kent Crawford and Andrew Cripwell) it became apparent to me that our current model for distributing resources is still very much in a traditional Christendom framework.
I am sure that we should be:
- giving priority of resources to enable “pioneer” type ministries fostering both different types of Christian community and different ways of engaging with the world;
- searching the church and identifying entrepreneurial people who have the gifts and abilities to begin something new;
- giving those people time and permission to fail and start anew;
- questioning our current understanding and measures of success; and
- aiming, in all this, to join with God in the work God is doing in the world to establish the kingdom, the way of life, the way of being that Jesus spoke of.
Our prime goal should not be the development of a strategic plan for the salvation of the Uniting Church but the creation of communities that are living out the values of the kingdom and affirming them where they occur in the world around us.
In one church we visited — St Laurence, Reading — a 12th century building had been refitted complete with lounges and café, break-out areas, chairs instead of pews, worship that no longer exactly conformed to the traditional Anglican form and liturgy and a mission that was intentionally focused on the young.
Anyone could belong to the church as long as they were prepared to be part of that mission.
Ten years ago the congregation was made up of 12 older people with no mission. Now the congregation of 100-plus has a wide but predominantly young age profile, is active in the community and in schools and overseas, in contact with over 500 people, and nurturing 120 in relational activities with about 40 making some sort of commitment which may lead to discipleship — for the sake of the kingdom a heritage sacrificed and yet given new life in a new way, in a new form with new people.
In some cases such change will be intentional and directed as it was in Reading but I believe God will work through the lives of all our congregations and amazing things will happen if we deliberately engender in our congregational life marks of the kingdom:
- worship and prayer
- growing and learning in faith
- speaking and acting for social justice
- faith sharing
- caring for one another
- caring for creation.
It is not so much about mission to save the church — the building, the denomination, the tradition — as it is about living by the values of the gospel and identifying and joining with God in what God is doing in the world.
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