Recently I was able to attend the Metro East Regional Gathering in Mundijong and also the 162nd anniversary of the Gingin congregation. Both were extraordinary examples of how life and gospel are celebrated in the current context of apparently declining interest in ‘church’. It reinforces my interest in shifting our focus away from ‘head office’ to celebrating and enabling what is happening on the ground at the core of the Church–in the congregations.
In Mundijong, the dilapidated church building has been restored and a magnificent community garden has been planted to accompany it. Yes, the congregation did get some help from the Synod Property Division but a huge amount of the work involved the local community in Byford and Mundijong. They found a volunteer group to help with the hard stuff, called MMM Australia.
MMM are a group of volunteer tradies who give of their time and skills to ‘serve those who serve’. They still have a worship service once a month but they also have regular weekly meetings of all kinds of other groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, arts and crafts, gardeners etc) and they are building a community of people who were initially far from God but who are connecting more and more together as a faith community.
The enthusiasm of the group, the commitment to each other and the willingness to identify with a Christian ethos are all positive elements in the group and are attractive to the community at large. They saw a vision in a broken down building and an out of control garden and are turning it into a fresh expression of church. Similarly in Gingin.
One hundred and sixty two years ago, the Methodist Church in Perth sent a minister on horseback to serve the community up to 50 miles outside of Perth. He started a Wesleyan congregation in Creaton which has become the Gingin Uniting Church. It has a small well kept building and has worship services twice a month. On the other Sundays they join with the Anglicans and vice versa.
After the worship service, as in all country and, it seems, small congregations, they had a magnificent spread for morning tea. Everyone came along and the fellowship was warm and friendly. They have a Home Group Bible Study in the week, they support School Chaplaincy and UnitingCare West’s Winter appeal and are planning a Women’s Prayer and Refection Day at New Norcia. A big feature of their life is Messy Church which attracts up to thirty children plus parents from the community, and was nominated for the Premier’s Australia Day Award.
Every member is involved in one or more activities in the community generally and they live out their faith in the everyday of that little town. In the celebration service, their minister, Rev Geoff Lilburne, asked the question – what is the church? And what is it supposed to be?
They were similar questions which arose in Mundijong. The answer was the same. The church is a God initiated community of believers which is drawn together in Christ as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. (If that sounds familiar, you are right–it’s from Paragraph 3 of the Basis of Union). The Scripture texts in both places were the same too–Amos’ plumb line (getting things right with God), Colossians 1 (thanking God for each other) and Luke 10 (the Good Samaritan).
In Mundijong they call themselves Good Samaritans–they are not holy or particularly religious, but they can and do show mercy to those who have fallen on rough times. Sounds to me that we have a good deal of life in our congregations.
Rev David de Kock
General Secretary, Uniting Church WA