May the 4th be with you (and also with you)

church of latter day geeks
As the Uniting Church in Australia prepares to commemorate a milestone anniversary, followers of another kind will celebrate four decades of commitment.

In a galaxy far, far away (1977 to be exact) the legend of Star Wars was born.

May the fourth, as in ‘May the force be with you’, is set aside on the ‘geek’ calendar as a day to celebrate Ewoks, Jedis and Sith Lords.

Some adherents even dress as their favourite Star Wars character, while others might dust off their lightsabres and join like-minded fans in celebration.

Also in 1977 at about this time, ministers of three denominations were ironing their robes and rehearsing their sermons in readiness for the inauguration of Australia’s newest church.

Apart from those who infamously list their religion as ‘Jedi’ on official documents, at first glance it would seem that the two 40 year-old institutions have little in common.

Rev Dr Avril Hannah-Jones is a Uniting Church minister at Williamstown – Electra St. Dr Hannah-Jones has become known for her unique ‘Church of Latter Day Geeks’ services, where she manages to combine sci-fi fantasy worlds with the deeper message of the Christian church.

Speaking with Crosslight on the eve of the 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest chapter in the saga, Dr Hannah-Jones discussed how ‘fandom’ created a sense of community that dovetails with traditional religion.

“The stories ask questions about the meaning of life, the nature of good and evil, what it means to be human, and whether there is something beyond the physical world,” she said.

“Fan communities have been active for raising money for groups like UNICEF after every natural disaster. The care I’ve seen in fan communities is as profound as the care I’ve seen in the best of Christian communities.”

While some more conservative Christians have questioned the merits of a ‘geek’ service, others have praised Dr Hannah-Jones for her initiative.

Australian Baptist movement spokesman Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian. Responding to criticism of the service on news.com.au he said the service was a unique opportunity to introduce more people to Christianity.

“What matters is how the church leaders frame the cultural theme within a Christian context,” Mr Benson said.

“This Uniting Church congregation’s sci-fi/fantasy theme is commendable if it connects with the community.”

 

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