Prepare for new things
“As you look back over the story of your own life, or the life of your family, community or nation, where do you see the desire for renewal manifesting itself?” So asks retreat director and author Margaret Silf in her recent book The Other Side of Chaos. It is a good question at any time but especially at significant milestones that invite deep reflection and the resetting of direction … like anniversaries!
I have recently been privileged to participate in anniversary celebrations around the Synod: Marrickville Congregation’s 140th, UnitingCare Burnside’s Centenary, Braidwood Uniting Church’s 150th, Kinross Wolaroi School’s 125th, and Scone Uniting Church’s 150th.
The challenge to these and other unique expressions of our diverse Uniting Church is to discover the new and risky paths to which God is calling them, hopefully inspired by the ethos of our church, which is briefly but well described as inclusive, courageous and generous.
Some helpful insights in how to achieve this discernment were provided at the recent National Ministry Conference in Adelaide.
On the theme of Fresh Expressions, Jenny Tymms spoke of the three vital phases that lead to new and creative mission. There are endings, an in-between or liminal phase, and the new beginning itself.
One of the key insights that Jenny provided was that we need to first deal with endings.
Fresh expressions of ministry are best discerned when we have laid down the baggage of the past and have done our grieving. We then need the faith and patience to endure the in-between phase where God’s Spirit prepares us for new things, just as God prepared the Israelites for the Promised Land with an experience of the Wilderness.
That includes spending time in prayer and reflection to refine our spirits to welcome and engage with what is new. Jesus said it succinctly: you cannot put new wine into old wineskins.
Christmas is also an anniversary and Advent provides an opportunity to reflect and prepare for new things, of which the birth of Jesus Christ is the ultimate “Fresh Expression”.
What the Israelite people first had to let go of (and of course some never did) was their expectation of and dependence on a powerful leader like David who would restore their fortunes as a nation by armed force.
Matthew’s Gospel especially describes the liminal ordeal of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Joseph and Mary as they are prepared for something really new and different: the incarnation of the One who was to engage with the community as a guest and a servant in order to achieve the transformation of humanity.
It might well benefit the church and, in fact, the community itself if we are able to again consider what it means to let go of the fading hope of being at the powerful centre, where we can dictate to society what it should and should not do.
Rather, what does it mean for us today to be in the community as servants and guests in such a way that fresh expressions of mission arise from the interaction?
Margaret Silf continues: “How can you cooperate in your own way, using your own gifts, with this recreating Spirit?”
The anniversary stories and many others that I have heard recently affirm that, in many ways and many places, we are indeed willing to seek and walk the new and risky paths of renewal, growth and transformation.
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown, Moderator