Tuesday, November 02, 2010

great local mission story and a spontaneous liturgy

Simon Carey Holt’s God next door is a great little book. Small, easily read, theological, yet practical, it’s a treasure I’ve been using a lot this year, in reflecting on fresh expressions and mission.

It includes a superbly challenging story of local mission, which I have told a number of times in recent weeks. The first time I cried. The second time I had this wonderfully spontaneous liturgical moment, preaching in relation to Zacchaues in Luke 19. Read the local mission story and then I’ll tell you what happened.

This is a story of a church in Sydney. Small, struggling. Primarily older. Who found themselves in a changing neighbourhood.

What was once a sedate, primarily Anglo-Australian, over time becoming one of the most culturally diverse suburbs of Sydney. Full of migrants from Asia, India and Middle-East.

Sadly, with cultural change came racial tensions that periodically boil over.

After one particularly raucous Saturday night, a rock was hurled through the church’s stained glass window.

As the congregation gathered for worship the next day, the initial response was anger. The pastor and one of the church’s deacons were deputised to file a complaint at the local police station.

With the station only a short distance away, the pastor and the deacon decided to walk.

As it happened, that walk was a turning point in their domestic missiology. To quote the pastor “As we walked the local streets, seeing the houses, the kids playing on the footpaths, stepping over the broken bottles and nodding greetings to those we passed,
I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. I turned to the deacon and asked him, ‘What do you see?’

Which has echoes of our Gospel story for today, doesn’t it; Jesus noticing Zacchaues.

“What do you see?” The deacon looked back at the pastor, a bit confused at first, but then he caught on. “Our neighbours’, he said. To which the pastor replied “What the hell are we doing?” And we turned around and walked back to the church.

What followed were some very difficult but inspiring conversations with the deacons and the congregation. ‘Gradually, we all came to the same conclusion,’ the pastor continued. ‘We prided ourselves on being a socially aware mob. We talked and prayed regularly about social and political issues – asylum seekers, overseas aid. But in the end we knew nothing about our own backyard. We just had no idea.”

What followed was an effort to reconnect the church community with it’s neighbourhood. “It was hard. Many in the congregation had moved away and only drove into the community for church on a Sunday. Everyone is so busy … with other things … legitimate things. They had to be realistic with their expectations. They began by bringing the neighbourhood into the Sunday service, to start by first trying to see it, feel it, smell it.”

The pastor asked one of the young women in the congregation, a talented fine arts student, to take some photographs of the area. The blew them up to poster size and mounted them all around the sanctuary walls.

They they made some life size street signs on metal poles, put local street names on them and placed them in various corners of the church. Worked hard to focus their liturgy and their preaching on neighbourhood issues.

Asked three elderly women from the congregation who still lived in the neighbourhood, to tell stories of their experience of living in the neighbourhood.

Tentative first steps.

But over the year since the church’s focus has begun to change. One big step was when some of the church leaders decided to actually move back into the neighbourhood around the church.

That’s domestic missiology. Perhaps it’s an Aussie version (courtesy of God next Door) of Zacchaeus story.

If you want to take this further, I suggest two resources, perhaps for Lent next year.
Make a study group around the book, God next door, by Australian Simon Holt. Or use the DVD Faith Stories, from Queensland Synod.

My God strengthen and sustain the domestic missiology of this church, Amen.

So what happened spontaneously, liturgically? Well when I got to the part in the story about the pastor bringing the street signs into church, I stumbled over my words.

I had my right arm extended. I had noted one local street near the church I was preaching at. But then my mind went blank. I couldn’t recall another local street.

In the pause, as my brain worked frantically, someone called out a street name. I presume it was their street!

Surprised, gratified, I took a risk. I extended the other arm and paused. Sure enough, someone else called out their street.

And again, back with my right arm. And another street name got called. And so, for a short minute, as a sort of participative communal prayer, with some gentle arm waving, the congregation named the local streets in which their lived. Which they needed to reflect on in mission.

A wonderful moment of spontaneous liturgy.

Posted by steve at 04:41 PM

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