Laity can lead the way
Over the past month or so I have had cause to ask myself: “Who are the people in the church who will be key in enabling the Synod to live out God’s vision for it, ‘Moving with God – Transforming communities’”?
In the last month as I have moved around and shared with different people, what I already believed has been confirmed over and over again. The key people are not ministers of the word, deacons or people in specified ministries.
As significant as these people are, God’s vision will only ever look like something seen through the wrong end of the binoculars if we focus our hope on their work and ministry.
The key people are the lay people in the church’s congregations and faith communities responding to the call of God in their lives.
We need to take seriously the idea of the “priesthood of all believers”.
Let me share some stories.
I preached at the 190th anniversary of the Castlereagh Church and what spoke to me was the story of that congregation’s beginnings.
John Lees built the original chapel at Castlereagh so that the people in that remote district could gather in a place close at hand and experience the grace of God as he had experienced it. Ministers came from time to time to preach, to encourage and to guide but it was lay people who planted the church and ensured that the body of Christ was evident in that place.
I was at a meeting in Forbes seeking to address issues of drought relief and I heard the story of the congregation at Cookamidgera — six to 12 people who have been part of “Project Reconnect” in which, over a number years, they have been focusing on reconnecting with God, reconnecting with each other and reconnecting with the community.
As a result of working together on the program, they decided that they could put on a Christmas community event. They did so with the help of the congregation at Parkes.
That was so successful they decided they could do one themselves and they put on a community barbecue in a hamlet of maybe 20 houses to which about 200 people came: a sign of hope in the midst of the dry despair of drought; a courageous step of grace that is about moving with God transforming communities.
Cookamidgera is planning another community event for Christmas this year.
I was at a Sydney Presbytery meeting and I heard the story of the “Green Church” at Maroubra Junction and how the concerns of lay people within a congregation for the world we live in, for God’s creation, led to many initiatives within the church community; from water tanks to car sharing and, significantly, a way of connecting with the community through shared concerns.
At a Community Fun Day put on by the congregation (a gift to the community which wasn’t about raising money — an act of grace — another story) a climate change activist who thought he would never find himself inside a church couldn’t believe he was handing out Green Church tee-shirts and promoting Green Church alongside church people.
This is a gospel story: having the courage to take hold of new ways of making the gospel come to life in the world in which we live. It is moving with God in our times that we may transform communities and ultimately the world.
If we reflect on the gospel story, we discover that the Christian Church was a movement of lay-people; lay people who, I would contend, were trained but not ordained.
This is not an argument against ordination but rather an argument for a trained, equipped, educated, spiritually-aware laity ready and encouraged to lead in mission, to live out a life of grace in the community in which they live, to respond to the call of God on their lives with a sense that they, as followers of Jesus, have the authority to speak and act in his name.
A key role of the ordained is to enable this to happen.
If we are serious about God’s vision for the Uniting Church, if we are serious about God’s desire to transform communities, we need the grace to let go of old ideas and models of being church and being in ministry; we need the courage to move into a way of being church and sharing ministry that maybe feels threatening but which will enable us to live the vision.