Engaging Well In Our Communities

For a number of years now, I’ve been thinking deeply about how churches can engage well — or at least better — with the communities in which they find themselves. The fact is, so often we don’t. Churches often condescendingly treat their local communities as a broken project in need of ‘fixing’ (conveniently ignoring our own brokenness), or fail to realise that people aren’t actually as stupid as we sometimes seem to think they are and can see straight through our thinly veiled attempts to get more bums on seats.

There is, I think, a more excellent way.

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Can there be ‘space for grace’ in challenging conversations?

The Assembly Standing Committee for the Uniting Church in Australia has submitted a report (which will be taken to the next Assembly in July), recommending that the Uniting Church “offer the rites of marriage to opposite-gender and same-gender couples, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants freedom of conscience to perform marriages or not.” This is obviously closely linked with recent changes to marriage legislation in Australia to include same-sex couples, and is the first taste of similar conversations that will be happening across many Christian denominations over the next few years

In one sense this is a big deal (even though it hasn’t, at the time of writing, been discussed and voted on at Assembly). Having said that, it has not risen out of nowhere. The Uniting Church has been committed to having these sorts of conversations for a long time now, even though they are often not easy conversations to have.

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A Scandalous Community (Or: ‘The Church’)

A community of people who have no right to be in relationship with one another

This is fast becoming my definition of the Church, or at least one of its core elements.

I’ve come to this conclusion due to my reading of the letter to the Ephesians, wherein the author (I’m happy to call him ‘Paul’) describes how Jesus of Nazareth—in his life, ministry, death and resurrection—has “…destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”, bringing Jew and Gentile together into one family of faith.

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