Ardlethan, in the Riverina, is a village with a population of 427, according to the 2016 census. Twenty years ago when I began Ministry, Ardlethan Uniting Church were seeking a full time Minister and my name was on the list to go there. Instead I was asked to go to Tenterfield, northern NSW, where one of my outlying congregations, for various reasons, belonged neither in the NSW/ACT Synod or the QLD Synod and was indeed seen as a forgettable congregation. It was made up of six women who were widows or married to men who never came along and I went there every fortnight for nearly five years.
Since that time I have been thinking about rural Ministry and the way we encourage and welcome those who can easily be seen as the least. I have thought about the subtle attraction we have, even in the church, to the famous, the large, the wealthy, the “successful” and the dynamic.
What the Church Should Be
For the most part over centuries, Christianity has consisted of smaller communities of people, gathering in diverse ways within their wider communities. We find ourselves now in a new age in the 21st. Century and we won’t be going back as a church to those days gone by.
This is a time for honest reflection about what we believe and who we are, as part of the body of the Church.
Saltbush – Uniting the Scattered Community, affirms that being a “scattered” community of faith is exactly what the church should be. A “sent” people within our families, communities, regions and wider world. However, being a “disconnected” community is not the way we should be and not a mark of being the body of Christ. It is my first hope that through my work and the support of the wider work of the Synod together we can reaffirm the connectedness, the “uniting”, the relationship we have as a people of faith within our scattered Christian communities.
All of this needs to be online, grounded in the 21st. Century, hand in hand with opportunities to gather, in diverse locations, for friendship, reflection, learning, faithfulness – one with the land, one with each other, one with God.
No building, no programme, no “one”, will save us from the challenges of the time, but that each Christian community already has everything they need to be a faithful people; a people of God and a people of mission. And, together, uniting, connected, we can reaffirm the discipleship we share.
“Who Do You Say I Am?”
At my induction service the message reflected on Peter’s declaration in response to the personal question from Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” [Luke 9: 18-20.] I’ve asked myself that question a number of times over the years and it’s a question that has to be given a personal response. It’s a question for each of us, but also a question for each of our Christian communities and our response shapes the people we are.
We hear a lot about the divide between rural and urban, but I call us to see that it is our humanity that joins us more than our “place” divides us. In all our communities, cities, towns, villages, there are people who are lonely, who suffer, relationships that are struggling or broken. There are people who are hungry, both physically and spiritually. It is my response to the question “Who do you say that I am”, that reminds me personally that it is only the word and the way of Christ amongst humanity that gives meaning and life.
“Who do you say that I am?”, shapes the people we are, and our faithful response will surely draw us as a body, a Synod, a people, to encourage Christian communities everywhere, to live out the way of Christ within the communities in which they find themselves.
Rev. Mark Faulkner is the Director of Rural and Remote Ministry Initiatives