Wouldn't it be exciting (mid 2004) .
It hadn't taken long. The longstanding interest of some
members in their relationship with creation had, once channelled,
blossomed. The church now
found itself revitalised, and an acknowledged leader in the wider
community's understanding of its relationship with the rest of
Permaculture was adopted as a practical way to express
the need to love one's neighbour.
Every Sunday now witnessed the vibrant exchange of home produce in
the market after church.
Relationships were built through the bartering for goods and
exchanging of hints and tips.
Outsiders drawn to the promise of organic produce learned of the
spiritual and theological motivation of the congregation. The elderly shared their large
rambling gardens with the young- most of whom rented tiny apartments in
the area. The young got land,
the elderly kept their homes longer, both got healthy food, and the
generation gap was bridged.
Recent migrants, with poor english but excellent food growing
skills became valuable members of the community. The homeless and hungry exchanged
labour for food, and so gained both groceries and self-esteem.
Others responded to God's love of creation by growing
plants for native birds and animals (or donating garden space for others
to do so), so the neighbourhood became a mosaic of farmyard plots and
native sanctuaries. Church
members and others of good will revegetated not only back yards, but areas
of public land. Others were
overwhelmed by the suffering inflicted on all sorts of animals in the name
of human convenience, so the animal welfare groups, which were originally
stared by Christians, received a much needed shot in the arm. Others helped make the daily
operations of the church property consistent with their emerging
eco-ethic, and so the energy auditors and plumbers and architects and
handy-people got busy. Soon
they had formed a small consulting service to other organisations and
churches. After careful
scrutiny of past Synod resolutions they succeeded in lobbying for their
As the congregation engaged with creation at the local
level, they realised the magnitude of the problems being caused by
agribusiness and land clearing.
Some members of the church started to channel their energy into
regional, national and global engagement with the powers that be. Each individual only did the
little they could, but as a faith community, in cooperation with others of
good will, they achieved enormous amounts. The community forums organised by
the church on everything from permaculture and world trade to the
implications of evolution for family life became major events.
The waves rippled outwards.
The synod's mission section
identified the congregation as a centre for eco-theology, and members of
congregations from around the state came to be part of the workshops and
practical action. The
theological college resourced the congregation, running courses in the
local area. All Christians
were challenged to engage their understanding of the faith with the way we
understood the world to be.
Vigorous and healthy debate ensued, not as fights amongst
opponents, but as struggles amongst friends and co-workers. Members of the congregation even
offered courses and workshops in the local schools and universities, where
eco-education was an ever increasing focus. The chaplaincy to the schools and
universities further enhanced the conduit for young people into the
congregation, as they began to see the links between their concern for the
environment and the faith they had inherited from their parents.
Undergirding the hard work and hard thinking were the
regular times of spiritual refreshment. People spent time in wilderness
retreats. They participated in a Christian version of the Council of all
Beings, and the Grief and Empowerment workshops. They met outdoors for celebrations
of the seasons, and at night for "Psalm 8" worship services. This became a major offering of
the congregation to the wider community. It even lead to one of the
ministers becoming a part time chaplain to the local environment groups,
where despair and depression in the face of overwhelming odds were a
These retreats were not isolated events, but flowed out
of the weekly worship life of the congregation. These celebrations of life as
creatures of God integrated the church's praxis, the best insights of the
sciences about our place in the world, and the theological insights
preserved in the parts of the church's tradition to which the Basis of Union constantly pointed
Being such a locus of
creativity, the congregation constantly produced music and liturgy which
helped engage people in meaningful ways, and which was soon being
exported, helping fan the flames of an eco-engaged Christian faith around
the world. People flocked to
a church whose ministers were able to help them celebrate significant life
events in ways which engaged them with, rather than distracted them from,
Earth; birth, placenta burials, baptisms, puberty, relationships,
marriages, retirement and death.
Faithful Christians who had left the church, because it was
disinterested in Earth, returned in droves to a community in which they
could draw deeply from the spiritual wells which sustained their practical
engagement with those who destroyed Earth.
In just five years everyone was involved in this church
of farmers, foresters, promoters, educators, fixer uppers, thinkers,
students, teachers, worship leaders, song writers, liturgists, activists,
counsellors, retreat leaders, managers, economists, conservationists,
visionaries. They knew that
as they moved on over the following years, as Australians tend to do, they
would take their mustard seeds with them. The minister who first catalysed
it had had quite a time. The
congregation had been keen, but only keen enough. Nobody knew how or if it would
work. They had juggled
permaculture and preaching, chaplaincy and community forums, revegetation
and retreats, workshops and worship.
It took a while to see how the existing programs of the
congregation fitted, but of course, since they were all aimed at breaking
down marginalisation in society, they all did. It took a while to generate the
critical mass needed to involve the theological college and Synod's
mission section, but they got there.
By the time the minister who catalysed it left, the congregation
was a self-sustaining interdependent system, to which ministers exiting
the theological college vied to be called in order to form and be formed,
and eventually sent on their way inspired.
Exciting it was!