When I visited a family recently, they joked: “Where has the joy gone? Where is this abundant life we talk about?” It reminded me of the book by Andrew Dutney entitled, Where Did The Joy Come From?
While they were half in jest, it was evident the burdens of Church life are far outweighing the abundant joy we proclaim. Going to Church is not always the uplifting spiritual and social occasion our older members remember. Today it is hard work with fewer people facing increasing responsibilities and chores so things can tick over for another week.
I have reflected on this question without finding any real answer. I thought about how stretched everyone is — all of us being asked to do more with less — and how busy and tired people are. When you ask someone how they are, have you noticed the answer is nearly always the same: busy!
I began to question my own sense of joy. As I sat watching a movie about Oscar Romero — the Archbishop of San Salvador who was murdered while conducting mass in 1980 — my perspective was refreshed.
It reminded me I have freedom and safety, and I will not have to watch as my children starve or are beaten to death. I have a church I can go to without risk to my life and I have a home to live in that is luxuriously spacious compared to the living conditions most of our world endure.
I have work I love, serving people I care for.
I found my joy.
And then I watched as our Moderator was detained by police for holding a public prayer vigil in Tony Abbott’s office – praying for the thousands of refugees who are treated inhumanly simply for wanting just a little of what we have in such abundance. I was proud of our Church – that we care enough to move outside our own self-absorption to advocate for those on the margins.
As our Church struggles to adapt to a new way of doing things, part of our temptation is to try and keep everything going. It isn’t joy-full, which is a fair indicator that perhaps we have some hard decision to make and some prioritising to do.
While I know these issues are complex, I also know our purpose was clearly spelled out in the Basis of Union. We were designed to be a Church that joined God in working for reconciliation and renewal in all of creation. Our DNA is that of joy — loved for who we are, challenged to be who we could be, and then compassionately loving one another the same way.
Our Church springs from being God’s people serving God’s world… but as I look around I don’t see many joy-filled Congregations. Maybe too many of us have forgotten where our joy is?
I love our Church. I love our people, but even more, I love who we could be. Of course we have tasks to do and hard decisions to make, but maybe it’s time to step outside our own nostalgia and self-absorption and see life through someone else’s perspective in order to be reminded of who and whose we are – and the purpose to which we have been called.
So, in your Congregations, Church councils and small groups, I ask you to talk about, “where is your joy?” How evident is it in your worship and in your discipleship? Ask one another, “what have we to offer our communities and our world if we have forgotten our joy?”
Rev Dr John Squires, Wauchope Uniting Church and Southern Zone Minister
Mid North Coast Presbytery