The church and rebirth

“The energy of our day lies with people who want to engage one another in meetups, spontaneous and short term, over coffee,” writes former Uniting Church Minister Dr Paul Tonson.

By Paul Tonson

About the Act 2 Project, I have two viewpoints to share, of which the first is crucial for understanding the second.

I hope these viewpoints can deepen the conversation we have to have.

The first viewpoint is that I love and treasure the UCA for the unique place it occupies among the faith communities in Australia as an openly pluralist community that honours the dignity of differences of theological understanding, of ethnicity and of sexual orientation and gender.

I admire the UCA consensus decision making that by happenstance is essentially the pattern of our indigenous people since long ago.

I appreciate the way these characteristics have been life-giving for me, especially in the privilege of ordained ministry over 30 years.

Nevertheless, the second viewpoint is my suspicion that the Act 2 process may be a kind of by-path meadow (John Bunyan) for us as a pilgrim church.

I am challenged by the radical truth at the heart of the life and death of Jesus: “He who will save his life will lose it, but he who will lose his life will save it”. (Mk 8:35-37

How do we save the church if we are unwilling to lose it?

Our Christian faith has given most of us perfect peace in the faith of our own death, and of our loved ones.

However, it seems we cannot face the death of the church in the same way. Why is this?

I imagine most readers will have realised that the Constantinian-colonising church was ever an albatross for what began as a house church movement.

The large bureaucracy and red tape of our beloved UCA is also an albatross.

Expanding due diligence laws and procedures are oppressive for congregations that average under 30 people.

We are trying to grapple with a momentous culture change in our society: many people no longer want to be members of organisations, let alone get their 40-year service badge.

The former church of buoyant congregations is in palliative care.

Only the most radical change in our concept of church will meet this challenge, which may mean complete de-institutionalising.

The energy of our day lies with people who want to engage one another in meetups, spontaneous and short term, over coffee.

Surely it is a serendipity that 30 is just the right number to create house church, neighbourhood meetups

Dr Paul Tonson is a former Uniting Church Minister within the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania

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