Rev Dr Neil Sims reflects on the many expressions of mission found in the Spring edition of Journey and how this is an encouraging sign for congregations in Queensland.
As one who taught Mission of the Church to our ministry students and others for 15 years, I was greatly encouraged by the last (Spring 2019 edition) issue of Journey.
In the past in Queensland, we celebrated our church’s mission engagement through hospitals, BlueCare, Lifeline and Uniting Church schools. We still are thankful for those ministries. At the same time, perhaps we became complacent and/or short-sighted about our mission as congregations, and lost sight of our place in our local communities, simply waiting for people to come to us rather than going out to them.
The last issue of Journey told us emphatically that mission is part of the essence of the church, and is “about building a relationship with those who are beyond the gathered church—it’s in that process of relationship that the sharing of the story of faith and hope begins to happen,” according to Kath Behan (page 8). The article from Beth Nicholls tells us that relationships are the key to church planting in a society where one in four Australians are lonely (pages 26–27).
Mission is, first of all, the mission of God. So Scott Guyatt encourages us to wonder—to wonder “what God is up to” (pages 32–33). We are “driven by what we know of God’s heart and God’s call.” But we must also discern how God has gifted us. Someone has written thoughtfully, “If you want to know what the mission of God is for a congregation, look at the gifts of the people who comprise the congregation.”
Mission in Australia now happens from a countercultural perspective. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted that the church is no longer in a place of privilege, but on the margin of indifference and opposition. Simon Gomersall writes about the first signs of “persecution” in Australia and our response: “If we meet hatred with grace, accusation with forgiveness and violence with courage, we might just convince our society, once again, that Jesus is real” (pages 28–29).
Mission takes seriously the context, the concerns of the “other,” “seeing what people in your community are actually concerned about, and how as a church we can work with those people,” says Rev Andrew Gunton.
Journey gave us some good examples of this:
- Selena Gomersall found 30 mothers and their children at their annual outback get-together struggling with mental health issues and financial stresses—and she gathered people and resources to support them (pages 23–25).
- Creative and positive relationships have grown between Gold Coast congregations and nine young people aged 10 to 16 living in a UnitingCare home (pages 34–35).
- Alison Cox tells of supporting young people with disabilities in meaningful work and gives the example of an Ethical Groceries Group (page 9).
- Toowong Uniting Church has become extended family to international students in Brisbane (pages 14–15).
- When the government is preparing legislation on voluntary assisted dying, the Queensland Synod has done extensive consultation in order to participate thoughtfully in the wider community conversation (page 7).
The Spring issue of Journey gave me hope that many congregations are discovering what it means to participate in the mission of a gracious God in the context of enduring, loving relationships. When we are seen by society as different, even strange, and lacking credibility, we regain respect by our genuine service. How we serve depends on the needs we discover and on the passions and gifts God has given us!
Rev Dr Neil Sims
Rev Dr Neil Sims is a retired Minister of the Word now worshipping at Tewantin Uniting Church.