Connecting with Community. A core commitment of UC congregations in SA.
The 2018 April-May edition of New Times featured six articles on the way churches in SA connect with their community’s. Stories included Dernancourt‘s “Man What a Meal” , seniors thriving at Walkerville, public music options at Pilgrim Church Flinders St, and advance warning of “A Pumpkin Seed” event at Hawker. Other news of Messy Church and the continuing commitment of the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts (CLMA) were also noted.
The February -March edition included stories about the commitment of the Grange church in developing their relationship with the local area through a Community BBQ, a report about Broadview’s Wellbeing for the Ageing Project and the follow up to the tragic events of the Pinery fire by Lower Mid North congregations. Community based articles in 2017 also included stories about the community ministry of the Meadows, Sandy Creek, Royal Park and Oodnadatta congregations.
These accounts represent the diverse and creative ways UC congregations connect with their context. Various expressions used to describe this relationship indicate a range of expectations. “Serving the community, Connecting with Community, Engaging with Community, Reaching out to Younger Families” invite us to reflect about the hopes and expectations of this local ministry emphasis.
Some projects draw on resources in the geographical setting, where people live. Other projects bring people together through their commitment to a common cause or mutual interest like music or art. In developing a Messy Church programme Judyth Roberts suggests, “that it is a good fit for many Uniting Churches because it is open, creative and hospitable and embodies the UC ethos.” (New Times. April-May 2018. Pg. 13.)
Working with others through community ministry is an emphasis shared across the theological spectrum from Anglo Catholic to evangelical and charismatic traditions. For some they hope that the church will grow through self-less giving and generous hospitality with no strings attached. For others it’s a form of prophetic ministry, working and becoming partners with others to address injustice, strengthening community life and building up social capital.
Nearly eighty years ago Bonhoeffer, in a very different context, used the phrase, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving.” Others have explored the mission implications of the Tim Dearborn quote, “It is not the church of God which has a mission, it is the God of mission who has a church.” (April-May New Times. Page 9 in an article introducing Mark Schultz Executive Officer Mission and Resourcing SA Synod).
Over the past decade the Urban Mission Network has developed resources and organised events to assist congregations share their experiences and to learn from one another. The May gathering will focus on the diaconal tradition within the UCA and this will be an opportunity to share and discover again how this mission emphasis is a core theme for the whole church.
The UMN is also planning to provide additional assistance by offering local workshops. The aim of these sessions will be to listen, record and document the way congregations are involved in local areas. Workshops will offer suggestions and resources to adapt and use when local activists are thinking about future possibilities and options. Workshops will take the local setting seriously and work with the question, “What is the best model?” In commenting on this recurring question Stephen Bevans notes that, within today’s world of radical plurality and ambiguity the best answer to the question can only be: ‘It depends on the context’” (Stephen B. Bevans. Models of Contextual Theology. 1997:112.).
Community connection emphasis is also an important ingredient as denominational committees and boards (SA Synod) plan and allocate grants, name resource congregations and appoint staff. In the 1980s the annual meeting of PACT (Planning and Coordinating Team), SA Synod, involved representatives from seven Presbyteries and members were part of a discernment process. This ensured that local project initiatives and mission opportunities were affirmed and given careful consideration by a team representing the whole church, rural and urban, diaconal and evangelical. This discernment process was based on the assumption that the Uniting Church was a grass roots movement, committed to strengthening community life from below. Decisions about the use of resources were based on the commitment of congregations to their local mission regardless of their membership numbers, theological outlook or location.
In commenting on the growth of the urban village (email@example.com) author Amanda Abrams captures brilliantly, the essence and importance of the movement as well as giving us some gems about deepening community such as – ‘The goal, ultimately, is to utilize the growing “participation culture” to build resilience and build community. After all, in a world where the social fabric seems to be rapidly fraying, the economy is uncertain, and the future of the planet is at risk, is there a better way to hit the reset button than to come back to the neighbourhood level and begin to genuinely rely on one another again?’
For articles and resources access Pilgrim church web site at http://www.pilgrim.org.au/neighbourhood/index.php.
Rev Dr Dean Eland
7 May 2018