Seek ways to love the world
On April 1 I attended the launch of the “Remembering Billy Graham” film at the Lyceum Theatre in Wesley Mission (later broadcast on television).
It was a film about Billy Graham’s visit in 1959 and the impact it had on Australia and the Church in the following years. It was not only a significant event in the life of the Church but involved some of the biggest gatherings this country has ever seen — not to watch a football match or for a political rally but to hear the message of an evangelist calling people to turn to Christ.
We might say, “We need another Billy Graham!” but, as I reflected on it, I thought, “It wouldn’t work today.”
Our society has changed dramatically since then. If ever there was such a thing as the churched society Billy Graham was preaching to it; the church was a strong and generally respected institution at the heart of our nation’s life.
At that time there was a sense in which people were being drawn back into the fold, but in 2009 the church is on the margins, does not command the respect it once had and there are growing numbers of people who are two or three generations away from involvement in the church.
Today I believe effective evangelism must be on the ground, in one-to-one relationships, in community activity as we in our churches are bearers of the good news in word and action.
Over the past month I have seen the church working on the ground, in different ways, reflecting the good news.
In Orange I participated in a combined service in which eight Uniting Church congregations participated, representing a number of different ways of giving expression to Christian faith in a diverse community.
To maintain eight congregations, a significant number of lay preachers and leaders are a part of the team and there are lay presiders in each congregation.
The Rev. Noreen Towers and I spoke of the potential to grow lots of small faith communities begun out of different contexts and needs, rather than necessarily creating one large congregation.
I was at St Mary’s for the opening of the Newpin (New Parent Infant Network) project there — a partnership between UnitingCare Burnside and the St Mary’s congregation in which a network of services has been set up across the Uniting Church site, including the congregation, Susanna’s Children’s Centre and the Newpin Centre.
Here the good news is mediated through the church’s presence, reflecting God’s commitment to the powerless and the fragile, and offering hope and new life.
Following on from the success of this project, UnitingCare Burnside is looking for opportunities to enter partnerships with other congregations.
On Easter Sunday I celebrated with Berry Uniting Church both the resurrection of Jesus and the 125th anniversary of the church.
It was a wonderful day. The congregation at Berry has set up a Men’s Shed in the old church — it has been going for four years, is thriving and the church looks great with all the tools and workbenches. I suggested they might make a big sign to put up on the wall of the old church: “Jesus was a carpenter.”
The Men’s Shed has become involved in providing community services, including making items of furniture, raised garden beds for the elderly and disabled, and creating a courtyard for community organisations, schools and the hospitals.
The church has also sponsored a community garden in which anyone in the community is welcome to have a plot to grow produce for themselves or to give to charity.
The comment was made that these projects had not brought anyone new into the church. In the end, that is not the reason for providing them, but rather is a response to the call of God to proclaim the good news by loving the world as God loves the world.
Every congregation needs to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to how they might do this best with the resources they have in their own context.
What they do may be worship-focused or in community service or maybe in education or in action for justice, but always we should be able to give expression to why we do whatever we do — because as God’s people implanted with the DNA of Jesus we can’t do anything but seek ways to love the world as God loves the world.
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