Judy and I look forward to viewing Heather Ewart’s episodes in the ABCs Back Roads series. You might ask what is it that prompts us to make sure we do not miss the repeats and listen to the interviews from those living in outback towns? Hearing from those who are doing what they can to address the challenges that come with declining population, young people leaving town for the big city, mechanization of farm work and climate change.
Each town in its own setting and history; on the coast or on the mountain range or on the plain, communities now bypassed by a new highway. And then there is also the risk that comes from the fires, droughts and flooding rains.
Often its one or two local friends who come up with an idea and take steps to translate the idea into action. At this point we are inspired and begin to appreciate how creative community building events make all the difference and lift the spirits. Locals not paralysed but setting out and working together, supporting one another to enrich community life and finding new ways ahead.
Sometimes it is a project to care for the environment, planting trees or a new park for the kids, food sharing from back yard veggie and fruit gardens, trying out an arts or music group, a tourist attraction, a shop front museum, information or history centre, an annual festival or local newspaper to keep in touch, volunteers on a roster to support the local school. I am sure you have heard about or been involved in similar projects in urban settings, community building events that make a difference in curing loneliness and social isolation.
In the past few weeks, the season of Epiphany, we have been reflecting on stories from the first chapter of Mark. Clearly a new way of life is being demonstrated in outback towns on the margins of the empire, back roads of the Roman occupation. In these events, on the street, there are signs of hope and a new day dawning.
What is it that the local church can do by joining in God’s mission in the world? One author suggests that “the scope of the church’s mission is as broad and includes evangelizing, healing the sick, feeding the poor, transforming unjust political and socioeconomic structures, practicing good stewardship of creational resources, and working for relief and development. The wide scope of the missio ecclesiae derives from and reflects the universal love of God, and it looks forward to the coming new creation by participating in its advancing reality. Central to the missio ecclesiae is the incarnational community’s task of bearing witness to Christ through both being and action. (Adam Dodds, “The Centrality of the Church’s Missionary Nature: Theological Reflections and Practical Implications”, Missiology: An International Review Vol. XL No. 4 (October 2012: 393-407).
While these and other theological summaries are broad in scope local congregations are called to embody particular signs of hope and possibility. Shared action and networking mean we do not need to do it alone, just by ourselves or for members only. As we look outward and connect we discover others with a similar passion for achievable, practical and realistic projects that speak when words fail, actions that are signs and bear witness to a new way of living.