With her vibrant sense of style and passion for building Christian community, the new discipleship facilitator at Bremer Brisbane Presbytery is already standing out from the crowd. Dianne Jensen talks to Rev Monique Mawbey about life, death and what young Christians think about the Uniting Church.
Uniting Church deacon Rev Monique Mawbey has no hesitation in pinpointing the moment which changed her life.
It happened in her childhood home in South Africa during the dark weeks of her father’s terminal illness, when the 11-year-old found herself doing the very thing she had been told never to do—question God.
“My dad was dying, my family was falling apart and I was struggling to find God in the midst of it all. It didn’t help that my math teacher, one day at school, told me that I must have done something pretty bad to make God angry and that was why he was taking my dad away from me,” Monique recalls.
“I found myself sitting in church Sunday morning before my dad passed away, angry and frustrated. I’ve never prayed as hard as I did that day, as I screamed at God, got angry with God … and I can remember as if it was yesterday, that after this prayer I was suddenly filled with this sense of calmness and content, like everything was going to be okay.”
That moment of grace was a transformative experience for the young Christian brought up in the theologically conservative Dutch Reformed Church.
“It was in that situation that I discovered for myself that God is with us,” says Monique. “In the midst of our pain, anger, frustration—God is with us. He had been with us all along, but we were so filled with anxiety, stress and grief that we thought he had abandoned us in our time
Go make disciples
Now 29, Monique identifies this heart-breaking chapter in her life as planting the seeds of her call to ministry.
“As I reflected on my experience of God, as I reflected on the way my family experienced this event, I just knew that I wanted to journey alongside of people in their pain, in their grief, in their chaos—and remind them that they are not alone, that God has not abandoned them—and most important of all, that God is not punishing them.”
Her ministry journey began some years after the family had moved to Australia in 1999. She was encouraged to undertake a 12-month youth ministry traineeship with her local church in Emerald just after high school.
Monique enrolled at Trinity College Queensland, where she encountered a theological environment that pushed her right out of her comfort zone.
“I began to understand that it is okay to explore my faith and to ask questions—and that asking some of the more difficult questions didn’t make me a bad Christian and did not mean I was turning my back on God,” she says.
“As my thirst for knowledge in God increased and grew, I realised that life is not black-and-white, and one box does not and should not fit all. I came to understand that life is complicated and that people are complicated—and that in the midst of it all God loves us and meets us and journeys with us—and that what is expected from us is to love one another the best way we can.”
Following ordination in 2011 Monique worked as the youth, children and families minister at Pine Rivers Uniting Church before completing four years as an aged care chaplain with Wesley Mission Queensland.
Creating new communities of faith
Monique’s new position as discipleship facilitator with Bremer Brisbane Presbytery combines youth, children and families ministry with resourcing congregations to become more effective in discipleship.
“For some congregations it will be about how can we be more active members within our community; for others it might be how do we help a particular group, whether it’s young adults, middle-age or older people—how do we help them find a place in God’s story? So I think it will be very different for each congregation,” she says.
Stop talking and start listening
Like many younger Christians, Monique admits to sometimes feeling like a fish out of water during a traditional church service.
“I value community, I value having a safe place to explore faith and journey with others on their faith journey—but I often wonder why there is this understanding that we are only able to do this (be church) by sitting next to each other in silence for an hour or more every Sunday—listening to someone preaching at us, praying for us and telling us how to respond or what we will be singing next. I am not saying Sunday church isn’t relevant, or that Sunday worship isn’t important, but I do wonder if the church as a body is only catering for a particular generation(s) and type of person,” she says.
“I wonder if the disengagement we are experiencing amongst young people is more to do with the fact that we are expecting them to meet the church, rather than the church meeting them. Sure, we use the language of growing, moving, connecting, meeting and journeying with, but are we putting too much of our resources and energy into what once was and so should be working—leaving us with little time and energy to imagine, envision and explore what might be?
“When I look at my friends and the young adults I have engaged with, I would say the general attitude is—rather than preaching at me, engage with me. Let’s sit down and have civilised conversations where we can question together, explore together, debate together and walk away stronger for it.”
Why the Uniting Church?
The Australian church which first connected with the Christian teenage migrant and set her on the path to service remains Monique’s church home.
“Even though as a church we do not have all the answers and never will, the Uniting Church is not afraid to ask questions. The Uniting Church in Australia recognises that the church is made up of many different people and so strives to support everyone.
“We don’t always know how to do it, we don’t always get it right, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. This is what attracted me to the Uniting Church, this is what encourages me about the Uniting Church. We are a people on a journey together.”