As we move towards the Feast of Pentecost when we celebrate the gift of the Spirit to the church and each follower of Jesus, I am reminded again of the privilege I have witnessing so many signs of the Spirit’s presence calling us to worship, witness and service.
This year I am seeking to visit congregations on weekdays to better understand how different faith communities and agencies are living out their vocation as the body of Christ. I have already seen many communities of faith seeking to hear the call of the Spirit in their midst and to respond to that call.
I have seen congregations offering hospitality to community choirs, feeding the hungry and hosting groups that provide support to carers, people with a mental illness and cancer patients. I have visited op shops that not only promote the reuse of resources through selling used goods but also provide a place for people to find a cuppa, a chat and a sense of belonging. I have marvelled at lush community gardens that build community and help those tending them to overcome loneliness, while caring for the environment by helping people grow their own food.
The common thread through these ministries is recognition of each person as a beloved child of God, the desire to welcome others as we have been welcomed by God and a commitment to be alongside those who are marginalised or finding life tough for a season. These are indeed fruits of the Spirit.
I continue to be impressed by the work of our agencies Uniting Vic.Tas, Uniting AgeWell and Uniting Housing. They each strive to be innovative in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised in our community. They are navigating complex organisational and sector changes with good humour and skill, always mindful that the priority is the people they serve. Through the ministry of Uniting AgeWell we are reminded that there is no age limit for the gifting of the Spirit and that everyone deserves dignity and respect.
Through Uniting Vic.Tas the Spirit’s prophetic voice of justice and compassion is heard, reminding us again and again of God’s preferential option for the poor. Uniting Housing demonstrates how transformative a home and housing can be.
The agencies’ work reminds us that the Spirit is always inviting us to live out the reign of God in bold ways that bring the possibility of new life and hope.
The recently completed Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, along with the earlier Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, have laid bare to the world the failure of the church to protect children in our care. It has called us to lament and repent. It has demanded we be accountable for the evil done in our name and for the suffering many people live with every day as a result of childhood abuse. In this I see the work of the Spirit convicting us of our sin, calling us to repentance and leading us to real and lasting change.
One of the ways we are changing in response to this call is the implementation of the Keeping Children Safe framework across the church. It is pleasing to see that most congregations across the synod have begun the work of creating safe communities for children and vulnerable adults. Designated leaders have obtained Working with Children Checks/Registration and committed to adhering to the Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders. Those running programs for children have begun to screen, mentor, train and review program leaders. We are not there yet and we cannot become complacent. But I do see in the progress being made a sign of the Spirit remaking us as a community.
Discerning the movement of the Spirit is a communal task; it is to be done by the body of Christ. I offer these reflections not as a definitive list but as a prompt to all of us to be open to where we see the Spirit moving, acting and calling. I invite you to discern as communities of faith where you see God’s wild Spirit is calling you and to heed that call.