Communities of faith come in many shapes and sizes and I have been fortunate enough to be gathered into two new ones this year. On the fourth Sunday of the month I leave my house and home church in Brighton Beach, reverse out the driveway to the dulcet tones of drums and guitars thumping through the church wall, and head on up the road to Hampton Uniting Church which takes me all of four minutes.
Once a month over the past year I have been leading worship with the Hampton mob and I just love it. I am keeping the seat warm for my colleague Tim who is arriving at the beginning of Advent.
In my ministry life, both lay and ordained, I have had lots of opportunities for varied forms of ministry within the Uniting Church, all of which I have enjoyed. At the moment I am in placement at the CTM as the Field Education Co-ordinator.
But this little once a month role with the Hampton mob has really got under my skin for a number of reasons.
First, I have to say I enjoy preaching and leading worship. I can hear many of colleagues already with the refrain: “Well now, try doing that every weekand you might not be quite so chirpy!” But allow me to indulge.
I enjoy reading the texts for the week, and the commentaries and thinking about what they might mean. I enjoy drawing on books I am reading, films, conversations I have had or overheard, art or music. And I try to weave a narrative that I feel speaks some truth. Not the whole truth, but truth none the less.
But this is not what has particularly got under my skin. It’s the people.
When you first enter a group, any group, you sort of just see a whole bunch. Then, after some time, if you pay attention, the bunch begins to take on particular shape and form.
They are faithful folk at Hampton who attend each week. They make sure those who are not able to get to church on their own are gathered up in various car loads. They make sure those with disabilities are never left out. People feel free to bring their toast to church in their handbag so they can eat it with a cup of tea with their friends before worship.
When I arrive, no matter how early, there is always a little group on the couches in the foyer having a big chat about their week. “Morning Sue. It must be your week.”
These folk take their faith seriously. Their previous minister made sure of this. She was a fantastic pastor and worship leader as I know the bloke who is coming in November will be. The thing is, I just feel like I am taking my place in the grand scheme of things; doing my bit in this little community of faith.
And the second community is a quite different again. In my new role at the CTM I am working with around 20 candidates. Every couple of weeks I take classes where the candidates are invited to theologically reflect on their ministry experiences within their field placements. This has been a surprisingly powerful experience.
Candidates are placed within schools, agencies, synod ministries and congregations.
What excites me about the classes is not only hearing the depth to which the candidates reflect theologically on ministry practice and what it means for them (and how this may shape their ministry in the future) it is the candidates themselves.
Candidates for ministry come in all shapes and sizes and cultures and ages and backgrounds and from all eight presbyteries. There are organic and deep moments in these conversations as well as honesty and attentive respect as we talk around so many aspects of what it means to be a minister, a Christian, a human being – where we might fall short and where we feel there are new things to learn.
In Christian community the good news is that within any motley crew, if we pay attention, we can see some shape and movement in God’s workings in us and in God’s church.
It is a mad caper this Christian life but I, for one, hope I will always be surprised by the unexpected. I hope I will be attentive enough to those ‘breakings-in-of-new-ideas and truth’ in any motley crew I am fortunate enough to gather with.
Rev Sue Withers
Field Education Coordinator
Centre for Theology and Ministry