Time for us to celebrate and look ahead
This year we celebrate three significant milestones in our Church’s life: 38 years since the inauguration of the Uniting Church; 30 years since the formation of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), and 30 years since the Uniting Church declaration “We are a multicultural church”.
When we celebrate these milestones together, we speak volumes about who we are as the Uniting Church in Australia. We value and celebrate our diversity as part of our striving for life abundant in Jesus Christ. This year’s celebrations included the Uniting Multicultural Festival Anniversary Worship on the evening of Sunday 21 June at Newington College. It was followed by more celebrations and culture sharing at the Uniting Multicultural Festival day on Saturday 27 June at The Centre for Ministry, North Parramatta.
We made time to gather for these special occasions, sharing, learning, praising together as one body. But as we move past those events, I wonder about what else we do in our local communities once we have dispersed from these mountain top experiences.
These celebrations are important markers on our journey, but they are not just about remembering how we got here. They’re also about pointing us toward that which is to come. We are still the pilgrim people continuing on the journey to fully realise what it means to be a multicultural church, in a covenantal relationship, living faith and life cross-culturally.
How do you mark a significant occasion? A birthday, a baptism, a graduation, a retirement? It is hard to do so without reference to the rest of life. As we celebrate, we also reflect on the journey to this point, and wonder about and plan for the way forward. As a church we too must remember not only to look back, but to look forward towards our shared vision and mission — on this occasion asking, “What can we do to better reflect our identity and values we share as the Uniting Church in Australia?”
Sometimes we can forget why we are doing something. We can get stuck in a rut, focusing too closely on the known and the easy. We can forget to hold up and pursue that broader vision and mission God has put on our hearts.
In my ministry role, I spend time with people across the Church talking about how we embody Church today – remembering the good and not-so-good things from our past and looking at how we do ministry in the world today and into the future.
There can be grumbles such as “Why do we need to do things differently?” or “Why can’t we just keep doing what we’ve always done?” The reality is we live and serve in radically different spheres compared with decades ago. Collectively, we need to learn from the past – the wins and the stumbles – and authentically be God’s church in the world today.
God often calls us to tasks, which may seem difficult or even impossible. One thing we have learned from the journey, so far, is that with God’s help we grow together toward the vision of the coming realm of God. We remember and hold up the champions of Church union and the thousands upon thousands of members who embraced the uniting spirit.
We remember and hold up the courageous discernment of Indigenous sisters and brothers, as well as our Church forebears who held out the initial hand of friendship and, later, the covenant relationship.
We remember and hold up the vision of leaders in a young Church to affirm multicultural identity as a core value in the ongoing life of this Church. Looking back gives us eyes to see a bigger picture; what we are all contributing in God’s plan for the reconciliation of all things.
When we see that our local faith community is part of that bigger picture, we can move into the future informed by our learning from the journey thus far.
We have a role as community to continue to remind one another about our shared vision and mission. Just as every few years the whole Synod of NSW and ACT claims afresh its vision and mission plan. This then encourages each and every one of our Congregations and members to be inspired about what they are all called by God to be and do — in their local community and their own lives.
How do you and your community live out covenant relationship?
How do you and your community live out the identity of being a multicultural Church?
These are a big part of our shared story. We must hold these in front. Not just at milestone celebration times, but whenever we are being who we are as the Church.