Focus on our spiritual imprint
On April 13 I had the opportunity to share in the centenary celebrations of Strathfield Uniting Church, Carrington Avenue, where the Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, rededicated the carillon.
It was a great day.
The church was full, the choirs sang, the bells pealed, the memories flowed and the lunch was delicious. The culturally diverse congregation of 2008 clearly is quite different from the congregation which began in1908.
After the service, during lunch, in a small group chatting about the church, the question was asked, “Do you think this church will be here in 100 years time?”
Those who were part of that conversation seemed doubtful about that possibility. Of course it is quite likely that the building will still be standing as part of our built heritage, but what about the church, the community of faith?
Someone then asked, “Will the Uniting Church be around in 100 years time?”
My response to all this was, “I have no doubt that the church will be around. What it looks like, what form it will take, who knows!”
As I reflected on this in the following week, I came to the conclusion that what I would hope would flourish is the heritage of Christian faith that has been nurtured and developed through the Uniting Church and its predecessors in a church such as Strathfield.
Whatever the church looks like in 100 years I hope that there will be a church that has a passion for making disciples whose personal relationship with Jesus motivates its adherents to explore and challenge their faith, to care about the world in which they live, to relate to others with justice, mercy and forgiveness, seeking to live in the way of Jesus through living a life of grace.
I hope that is what the Uniting Church passes on.
Do we want to spend too much time worrying about whether Strathfield Uniting Church or the Uniting Church as a whole will be around in 100 years? Is our mission to ensure they are?
I do not think so. Surely our long-term goal is to create a significant spiritual imprint in the lives and communities of people in 100 years time.
The size of that imprint will depend on how courageous we are in the decisions we make today.
What is important is not the name of the denomination, the property we own or even the polity we have.
Our primary focus must not be about saving or preserving the Uniting Church, our particular congregation or even, less significantly, our building; but rather our primary focus must be on living and sharing the faith and discovering ways in which we can best do that in this 21st century environment — ways that will allow it to live and flourish into the 22nd century.
Paula and I attended a function at Parliament House celebrating 126 years of service of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of New South Wales. It was also an occasion to mark the end of that organisation as it had been and to launch the WCTU Foundation.
WCTU assets are to be sold and placed in the foundation to resource work that will further its original goals well into the future.
The organisation will cease to exist, the means of achieving its goals will change but the work will continue and possibly become more effective.
I was impressed by this courageous decision not to allow the WCTU simply to wither away, but rather, by dying to an old way of being, creating a new way ahead to ensure the continuation of its mission.
Will the WCTU exist in 100 years time?
Will it still be influencing and having an impact on society in 100 years time?
So taking that model, but not limited to it, maybe there are some instances where a congregation, as a whole, could determine unilaterally to move to a nearby congregation to strengthen that congregation’s life and mission.
Maybe a congregation could simply come to the decision that a building is not necessary for it to be the church in its particular community. Then, in either case, the congregation could sacrificially give its property assets to the Synod to further the mission of the church in other places.
Now that would be grace, that would be courageous, that would be generous!
Can we be courageous and generous for the sake of the gospel not only for today but also for generations to come?
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