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Reconnecting with the heart

THE DOCTORS told me that I had a close shave with death. It’s not that I had not been warned.

Six years ago an angiogram showed that I had a partial blockage that might need bypass surgery if the cholesterol continued to build up in the arteries. It did not bother me much since I was taking some of the best cholesterol reducing medication and being reasonably careful about what I ate.

It was only the chest pain I felt when I walked for more than 10 minutes that made me go to the doctor again.

When the cardiologist saw the angiogram he would not let me go home. The surgeon told me what he would do and then said I had three other options; “pine, spruce or mahogany”. When faced with those options I chose the surgery.

I was scheduled for a triple bypass first thing the next morning.

Bypass surgery is interesting. The surgeon took two arteries from the upper chest wall and redirected them to send blood to my heart, then took a vein from my leg using it to bypass another blockage.

Now my heart functions better than it has for some time and if I make some lifestyle changes I can avoid a heart attack.

I want to thank all those who have visited, sent cards and flowers and prayed for my family and me. It is deeply empowering and very encouraging to know that I am cared for by this wonderful church and many who are part of other churches.

While I am slowly recovering, interestingly enough the only pain I feel is from those areas of the body from which the arteries and veins were taken for the bypass.

This experience has caused me to ponder it as a parable for the Uniting Church in Queensland.

We are in a dangerous place. It is not as if we have not been warned.

For many years now we have been told that our congregations need to be revitalised if our church is to have a future.

Yet not too many congregations have done the hard work of making the changes necessary that they might connect with their communities in new ways; ways that serve their neighbours in the name of Jesus Christ.

Not many of us have taken the time to develop the confidence to share our faith in Christ with those around us.

We have kept doing what we have always done and drawn on the accumulated assets we inherited from our forebears.

The financial crisis that we are confronted with now forces us to take this situation seriously.

It is a wake up call and tells us that we need some radical surgery.

The rest of my body was fine. However if my heart stopped, then my whole body would die.

The Basis of Union reminds us that the visible expression of the whole Church is seen in the gathering of God’s people in worship, witness and service as a fellowship of the Spirit.

This gathered community, the congregations, are the heart of the Church; the body of Christ.

If congregating for worship, witness and service stops, then the whole body dies. We must now take some radical steps to redirect resources to the heart of the Church.

It is not about maintaining the properties and buildings, but restoring the passion for our love of Christ.

Our worship must be renewed so we focus on what God has done in Christ, drawing hope and inspiration from the Gospel.

We need to teach and encourage one another to bear witness to the work of Christ in action and word.

We need to give renewed attention to the needs within our community, nation and beyond so that we serve our world as Christ would.

It will be painful to sell property to enable the heart to thrive.

It might hurt to redirect our material and spiritual resources in new directions.

It may be painful for congregations to realise that they can no longer stand alone, aloof from the rest of the body, and will need to share their resources with others.

There will be scars and it may take some time before we see the new life, but as I found out, to try to ignore the situation in which we (and much of the mainstream church) find ourselves will leave us with the sort of choices the surgeon offered me.

But do not despair. Having gone through the surgery I underwent, while it has been painful, I know that my heart and my whole body is in a better state that it has been for some years.

Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

As we know Jesus did go through the suffering and death that he feared, but it led to his glorious resurrection.

As we undertake this journey together, we can be confident that if we are obedient to the call of God and seek his renewal we too will come through to a glorious new life as God’s people.

The process of renewing the congregational life of our Church may hurt, but it will lead to new life and a fulfilment of God’s call to us as The Uniting Church in Australia.