Harvesting Hope

Port Phillip West presbyteryBy Ros Marsden

Embracing, nurturing, exploring – these are the words shared daily around the churches that make up the Port Phillip West presbytery.  Its Regenerating the Church strategy, launched in 2013, is a living model designed to embrace the mission and longevity of the church for generations to come.

“Our regeneration strategy is about pioneering other ways to be church,” Rev Robert Renton, Presbytery Minister Administration, said.

“Our strong belief is that we must equip congregations and ministers to be pioneers through support and education.  There’s no point talking to people about trying new approaches if we don’t provide a thoughtful and engaging process that assists congregations to create their vision.”

The vision of Regenerating the Church is supported by an educational journey called the Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) course – a year of learning, talking and praying about developing and sustaining ‘fresh expressions’ of church.  In 18 months, 160 people have completed the program including 12 from other presbyteries. The course, developed by leaders of ‘Fresh Expressions’ in the UK, and led here by Rev Dr Adam McIntosh, Presbytery Minister, Mission and Education contains a range of modules that guide participants through defining what church means in the 21st century, evaluating what their wider community seeks, understanding how to start something new and how to grow spirituality for mission.

One of the striking symbols of the strategy is the beautiful logo commissioned by Port Phillip West presbytery to accompany its initiative.  The logo is used extensively on their new website www.regeneratingthechurch.org.au. It features a dove representing both the fire of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Uniting Church, a blackened tree recalling Australian bushfires and the accompanying pain and loss, and most importantly, green leaves, reminding people that bushfires bring regeneration and therefore it is the fire of the Holy Spirit that continues to regenerate the Church.

So have any churches started sprouting  green leaves? “Absolutely,” Rev Rose Broadstock, Mission Development Strategist for the presbytery, enthuses. “Part of our strategy is to develop ‘Regeneration’ ministers who support congregations developing fresh expressions of church.

“A great example is the work done by our 12 churches in the Macedon Ranges. Representatives from all congregations came  together regularly over the course of a year to workshop, talk, imagine, argue and laugh over coffee and food to create a shared vision and shared values.  They were then able to envisage how to share three ‘Regeneration’ ministers who will help them imagine ways of being Church that respond to the culture and needs of their local communities.  On Sunday 1 March  at Kyneton Uniting Church, 155 people of all ages representing the 12 congregations gathered for joyful worship to celebrate all they had accomplished.”

The Macedon model continues to flourish. Ideas for new models of mission include a spirituality centre, a community garden shared with asylum seekers, worship in cafes and community meals in op shops. The ministers and the presbytery will support the development of these ideas through training, coaching, the opportunity to belong to a Pioneering Learning Community, and some small seeding grants for the chosen new initiatives.

The www.regeneratingthechurch.org.au website features a range of exciting initiatives from churches already establishing fresh expressions of church. There are video profiles featuring:

  • Kirk’s Place, Point Lonsdale Uniting Church where services are held in the op shop and attendees sit on comfortable couches listening to harp music and prayers as a different way of doing church.
  • The Friendship Shed, a ministry space located at the op shop run by Melton Uniting Church where people share coffee, make cakes, chat, join a book club or shop.
  • Werribee Uniting Church member Fiona preparing for a café ministry through participation in cooking classes with those suffering various degrees of mental illness.
  • St Luke’s Uniting Church, Highton which offers craft, meals together and music in a family focussed ‘messy church’ environment where noisy children are welcome.
  • The knitting group run by Queenscliff Uniting Church where people gather to knit, learn, enjoy friendship and have conversations about deeper things including God.  At their annual tea cosy exhibition, which is a popular crowd attraction, casual prayer stations are installed.
  • Friday evening fish and chip night where Yarraville Uniting Church invites the local community to gather, eat and enjoy friendship in a relaxed atmosphere.

“The energy our congregations and ministers are experiencing is invigorating.  People have discovered that by identifying their own individual abilities, they can make a meaningful contribution to the regeneration of their own church,” Mr Renton said. “There is a bright future ahead with a forest of healthy green leaves.”

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