Putting Congregations into their Local Communities

11 Oct 2020 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Video interview with
Tuggeranong - Putting our congregations into their local communities

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

For the meeting of Presbytery that was held on Saturday 15 August, a series of four video interviews with parts of our Presbytery were prepared to help members of Presbytery get ready for group discussions during the meeting. The response to the videos was very positive, so it seems worthwhile indeed to put them out to the wider Presbytery through the weekly notices. This week I’d like to share the third video in the series, along with how it got me thinking. It is a video interview with four of the people from Tuggeranong Uniting Church.

You can view the video through this link – https://vimeo.com/447030335/9f50ad75cd A huge thank you to Amy from our Presbytery Office for organising the interview and making it available to us. Thank you as well to Sue, Bill, Dorothea and Elizabeth for being part of the interview.

The interview engages conversation around the challenges Tuggeranong might be facing if the social restrictions for COVID are extended for another 12 months or more, and also asks how these COVID times have led to reimagining what church is. With the restrictions for social distancing, it is not possible for the Tuggeranong congregation to fit in its church building. So, changes had to be made. For these changes they needed flexibility, adaptability, and a preparedness to take risks and be experimental. 

As part of reimagining how they would be church, they made a combined effort for zoom training that resulted in almost the whole congregation being assisted onto zoom. The Sunday worship service is on zoom with people joining from their homes along with a small COVID safe group connecting via zoom from the church buildings. In addition, written copies of the service are available for people. This gives greater options for people to connect. They have introduced another service based around meditation on a weekday for people who can’t make it on Sunday mornings, and there are three Bible studies on zoom. One of the latest experiments is zoom Sunday school!

Also as part of reimagining how they would be church, the congregation is finding new ways to put themselves into the local community. They planted bulbs around the church property to join in Floriade Re-Imagined, and collaborated with SouthFest, See-Change Tuggeranong and Erindale Neighbourhood Garden to create SpringFest that happened weekend before last. This brought together the church’s annual Spring Fair with the annual Tuggeranong-wide SouthFest that otherwise would have been totally cancelled due to COVID restrictions. Having researched the local community’s interest during this COVID time in growing their own food and keeping chickens, it made complete sense to the church for SpringFest to celebrate themes of resilience and sustainability. The church also included a pet blessing service over the weekend to connect with the increased popularity of pets during social restrictions. Through these shared interests, the congregation hopes to build ongoing relationships with their local community.

One of the parts of Tuggeranong’s story that grabs my attention is how they look for new ways to put themselves into their local community. Having a focus on looking for these kinds of opportunities is a shift in thinking from most of the history of the Christian church. For hundreds of years the Christian church in the West had centre place in towns and cities – just look for the prominent church buildings. In that time the Christian church has expected that people would come to it, and that being part of the church meant turning up to the building on Sundays at the set time for a worship service. The church no longer has that central position. 

The shift is happening in which the Christian church understands the importance of putting themselves into their local community. Some further clarification is needed here because it is not putting ourselves in our local community for the purpose of extracting people and bringing them back to our Sunday worship services in our church buildings (although some people may choose to come on Sunday mornings). Rather, it is putting ourselves in our local community and staying there. It is staying there, and together finding ways that resonate for gathering around Christ and growing as disciples (which may or may not include gathering for worship in the ways that we are used to).

Another part of Tuggeranong’s story that grabs my attention is them being flexible, adaptable, and prepared to take risks and experiment. These characteristics are very much needed as the Christian church seeks to put itself into the local community and to stay there. This sounds very much like what God has done in Christ. We can think of God as being flexible, adaptable, and prepared to take risks and experiment when God took on the human form in Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:1-11) and pitched a tent in the world (John 1:1-14). The Christian church is to follow God in this pattern.

The Mission Shaped Ministry journey, the Godsend App, and Mike Frost’s “Surprise the World” are all tools for helping us as church to follow God in this pattern. They offer us lots of help along the way, which we need because it is a big change from how the Christian Church has operated for hundreds of years. At the moment there are plans in our Presbytery to start another group of people on the Mission Shaped Ministry journey from term 2 next year. If you are interested in any of these tools, please contact me.