Drawing people from Devonport in the east, through Smithton in the west and all points in between, it was two days of enjoyable learning + community + worship + hospitality (in true north-west style).
Unite North-West Workshops
The plan for Unite North-West learning + community day was to explore a range of different ways of being faith community. To give people a taste of something different, rather than just trying to describe it. Just under 50 came from far and wide…
So Jill & Merril put together a chance to be faith community acting for justice and peace. Their groups thought about issues of social justice, joined the Micah challenge and undertook a letter-writing campaign to key political figures. The experience was significant, one person telling me that it was the first time they had encountered social justice as relevant, achievable and important, and not angry and guilt-inducing. There is, of course, always more we can (and should) do, but the permission to get started with small steps and just “do what we can” is critical, and on this day, welcomed.
David took his groups through an exploration of church “outside the box”. We talk a lot about doing church differently, and often I hear people say “I’m ready to try something different, just tell me what it is I have to do?”. Today David’s group explore a range of possibilities, from the simple life of small groups, through more involved possibilities. Good questions to sit with.
Andrea, Dianne and Sheri provided a taster of messy church and godly play, two related ways of entering into worship in ways that are creative, engaging, participatory, and most importantly, all age. The story of Moses encountering God as in a burning bush provided the central theme, with emphasis on what constitutes holy ground. The kids inspired and challenge the adults, and vice-versa as the group explore this growing approach to engaging the many who are turned-off by traditional approaches to church.
And I had fun with my groups thinking about the church on-line. We looked into a couple of examples of churches that solely (or primarily) exist on-line, connecting members from across the globe into community. We looked into ways in which social & digital media can help local churches connect with their wider communities. And we wrestled with some of the challenges – from the perceived capacity for people to hide their true identity in on-line interactions (how different is it really from the masks we wear to church every sunday?) and the challenge for those of us for whom digital interaction is like a second language.
Cafe Worship – Packed House
We had 100 chairs put out cafe-style in the excellent “The Point” facility at Burnie’s west-park (check the view we had…I kept getting distracted by it all morning as rain and wind squalls rolled in across Bass Strait). 100 wasn’t nearly enough. We added more and more, eventually rustling up every chair we could find (and a few things not really designed to be chairs) to cram in the 150 who came. 14 on a bus from Smithton, another 35 on a bus from Sprent, Devonport and Ulverstone, plus plenty from the nearer communities.
After a call to worship and song, we jumped into Matthew’s gospel, to find Jesus looking forward toward Jerusalem, starting to unpack his immediate future for the disciples (Matt 16:21-28). We wondered what did our own future hold? What was God calling us to? What was our Jerusalem.
In table groups we picked at this question, and provided with a range of art materials, created some visual representations of the way we understand God calling us forward:
- we are challenged to flexibility, welcome, tolerance
- we are called to be a community of learning
- we need to be a mobile phone/internet/computer/tablet – embracing new ways of being, of communicating, of building community
- we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit
- we must have open doors, sure so that people can come in, but most importantly that we can go out
- we must stand with the oppressed, seaking justice, practicing peace
- like a dandelion seed we must be scattered, send, beyond our normal places
- we are to be connected, entwined, embracing all that is community
- we are to be a like a garden, generating the fruits of our actions
- we can be church where we are, and anywhere (and everywhere?)
The stories, and the creations, went on and on. I couldn’t have written a better description of what it is to be a church at mission that was presented in the words of 7 year olds and 70 year olds, portrayed in play dough, pipe cleaners and cardboard.
For those with ears to hear, it was ample evidence that we can be church in so many different ways that go beyond a sunday morning with pews, hymn books and liturgy (though of course that’s an important way to be church too!).
David led us beautifully and simply into the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, the love-feast that flowed naturally into lunch, conversation flowing, noise levels rising…and outside the sun shining on the waters.
It was a cracker day.