Finding Common Ground

common ground

Barry Gittins

For two years Mel Jepson has been asked where she saw God that week.

That’s part of the ritual when she meets her friends at Common Ground, an intergenerational faith community that gathers in Heidelberg Scots Church meeting room on 10am Sundays.

The congregation, ranging from a dozen to 30 or more people, welcome each other and light a candle, before asking, “Where have you seen God this week?”

“We are CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) and Anglo-Saxon, ‘retireds’ and students and unemployed folks, workers and managers, singles and parents, and children and grandparents,” Mel says of the mix.

“Some are well off and some are doing it tough.”

Common Ground do things differently.

There are no sermons as such, but they have Bible readings, prayer and discussions interspersed with creative responses, including writing, art, modelling clay and a capella singing.

Options vary weekly, catering for differing learning styles, and for introverts and extroverts. They write letters as acts of worship and solidarity with people who are suffering. On occasion children and adults join forces to create dioramas.

“People are free to make comments and ask questions,” Mel says.

“Hearing people ‘process’ what we share is powerful. There is a lot of wisdom in the room, and everyone is welcome to add to our understanding and searching.

“There are times after our group has spoken and shared about a topic that our minister, Sandy Brodine, will say to us, ‘Everything that I would have included in a sermon has been shared.’ That is affirming.”

Common Ground started with families that were part of Banyule Network’s Messy Churches. Most regular attendees are families with young, teenage or adult children where the parents wanted to engage in worship with their children.

“They wanted to do something that bridged the gap between Messy Church and traditional church services,” Mel says.

“People engage differently. Some people write poetry. Others connect best through drawing. Others want a quiet, thinking space, and that includes adults and children.

“We communicate through tactile as well as aural or visual means.

“We worship and learn about God together; we want God to be present in all of our senses and in all aspects of creativity; in all aspects of life. We worship God with our whole selves – our prayer activities attempt to connect with God and each other.”

One Sunday – after discussions with Park Victoria – was spent “Making a Difference” (MAD) by picking up rubbish from an area of riverside close to Heidelberg.

There are more MAD experiences planned for 2019.

Anyone is welcome to find Common Ground. Passers-by have joined in, including some people who are homeless. 

“The key is listening to each other,” Mel says.

“Discussions include tactile and active options to participate in, as young people often engage better in conversation while doing something, as do some adults.”

Common Grounders know that people describe God and the world in different ways.

“We are all blinkered by our own expectations and experiences,” Mel says.

“We realise there are other ways to see the world, and that when we talk with people of different faith traditions and generations and life experiences, it’s then that we begin to bridge the gaps.

“We want the church to be a welcoming, inclusive, safe and open place. The heart of the church wants to welcome people.

“We need all sorts of diversity in Christian communities, because there are all sorts of people. We’re grateful that the Banyule Network has enthusiastically launched and supported fresh expressions of church.

“God is in this, and there is more to come. We need to be faithful to what comes next.”

Common Ground meets at 10am on Sundays in Heidelberg Scots Church meeting room at 187 Burgundy St, Heidelberg.

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