The church becomes incarnate when it is in the community, reaching out to respond to the issues and hurts in the local community, Pastor and CEO of the Wayside Chapel, Jon Owen, said on the first day of the Living Church Synod 2019.
In an afternoon keynote address, Pastor Owen said Wayside Mission’s power was its willingness to love and accept people from the streets.
“Our former CEO used to say we are not an ICU we are an ‘I see you’ organisation, we don’t try to rescue people we love people and see their value and call their value out,” he said.
“About 15% of our staff at Wayside used to live on the streets, we loved them, we saw their gifts and we called them out on their gifting.”
Pastor Owen says churches spent too much time building fences to keep people out rather than digging deep wells to attract those from around the community.
“In the same way the church becomes powerful when it is out in the community, standing beside those in need – the spirit becomes active in us when we are in the world.”
Pastor Owen said that ‘a living church’ had to be always asking itself what does the world need from the church?
“I have seen so much life in parish missions, it is alive in the heart of the neighbourhood. And when you see this you simply do not see the doomsday scenario about fears for the future of the church,” he told Synod.
“Instead I see the church involved in great things in the community, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we are counting the right things – people warming pews on a Sunday is not the right thing to be counting.”
Pastor Owen, a migrant to Australia of Sri-Lankan and Indian heritage, is a qualified social worker and for 20 years was a member of Urban Neighbours of Hope, a religious order dedicated to living and serving amongst the poor.
He told Synod about a neighbourhood work he was involved with in Melbourne.
“A single mum walked into a real estate agent needing a place to rent. The real estate agent said he knew the perfect location for her – it was the street which was at the heart of our neighbourhood mission,” Pastor Owen said.
“It was a testament to the transformation that had occurred. Five years prior it was considered the worst street in the neighbourhood, police area command cited it as having the highest crime rates. There was high levels of violence, crime, drugs and child neglect.
“The transformation was due to a few Christians being incarnate in that community. For them Sunday capped off what was done during the week in the community. It was a church that rallied around those with mental health issues, those with addictions, those who were victims of domestic violence.
“It gave confidence for women to say there were no longer putting up with violent relationships and the men of the church would come together to confronted violent perpetrators to make it known their violence would not be tolerated in this community.”
Pastor Owen said when he married his wife, Lisa, for their honeymoon they spent time in the House of Dying in Calcutta.
“We could not speak the language, so the nun told us that every action we took had to show the love of Christ. And that is what we need to do, that is what the church needs to do,” he said.
Paster Owen said every community had issues and every church had to grapple with what they can do in their community to be incarnate.
“The church must be at the heart of the community, meeting those in pain, those in need – it is here that it becomes incarnate. It becomes the living church.”