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  • Added May 22nd, 2014
  • Filed under 'Articles'
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At the crossroads: being open to options

By Helen Watson White in Articles

thoughts about community, continuity and spreading the good news

At the crossroads: being open to options
The leadership team is asking us to express our thoughts on what
we are about and where we are heading, as we consider the future of our buildings. We need to talk about our driving aims and values, about what we want to achieve, before we can know what buildings we need. Many have responded to this call, and the parish-wide gathering already held in March revealed a range of views.
The following is a response to the impressive 14-page "notes on future directions" put together by the Explorers Group -- which meets at
Mornington at 4.30 today. I am grateful to the Explorers for the careful thought they have put into their discussions in recent months, notably asking What is the good news? Related questions and answers are wide-ranging, applying not only to our condition in little old Dunedin, but to the Church at large.
In the (ecumenical) Wednesday Group a few years ago, I was challenged by the question, from a non-churchgoer, as to why I go to church. My answer was 1) community and 2) continuity. That person has since come to Glenaven and seen that we do what we do because of 3) the good news we have received in life. Both the community and the continuity relate to the good news; there would not be a church without it. So this is the motivation for what I am proposing for Glenaven in North East Valley.
I have already spoken briefly of my dream for our church, of a discussion group that meets on a Saturday, say 5-6pm, with the purpose of offering young people "a space to be who they are" (these are Siosifa's words, used in a different connection). I envisage that this should be open to any young person (undefined), whether they have a church background or -- as increasingly may be the case -- they do not. This would not be a worship service, more like the Explorers Group or the Open Education programme. It might involve eating and drinking together (in a non-party sense!). Hospitality is at the heart of Glenaven, and our round tables are made for discussing things -- social and personal issues, theology -- whatever people need or want to discuss, over a cup of tea. (Remember the Y@M group said in their March presentation that food was important -- it always is.) It would be an open space, in which the only rule is to respect other people's feelings and opinions, their persons and their property. I do not envisage this as a drop-in centre -- the Baptist Church in NEV has just established one -- but an ideas forum, a touch-base support group. And I do not expect to offer the initiative until next year.
I have thought about it a lot, because this is a commitment I am promising beyond what I do now; but in my view it is something worth attempting, because it is relevant to this particular church which I want to see continue into the future.
It is about community, continuity and spreading the good news. 1) We have a community already existing in that building, but it is very small, Sunday attendance barely making double figures. 2) This existing community has had over 100 years of life, and in recent decades its life has been opened up and invigorated by members of the LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, and by connection with students. So there is continuity for this idea in this place. 3) It is the natural place to convey the good news, but in a form that suits the people who hear it. These people have not wanted to come to a worship service, for whatever reason, or they would be at Glenaven already. They might indeed want to come to a worship service, instead or as well, once they see what kind of community we are: open to everyone.
As I think about where our church might go in future, I need to explain where I am coming from, my own church -- or more specifically my non-church -- background. As Siosifa has said, you are always looking back, when paddling a waka or rowing a boat, even as you move forward.
1)Community: The local Anglican church in Wakari, where I grew up, was just down the road from our house. With some of my five siblings I took part in Sunday School and Bible Class, including as a teacher, enjoyed choir-singing and playing the organ. But my history is quite different after 1968, when I left that childhood church to get married and didn't join another for 18 years.
2)Continuity: What I do now is generally in continuity with that upbringing, but the Anglican church (of which I am still a member) was
much changed when I returned to it in 1986. It had begun to recognize its bicultural roots, and it had since 1977 ordained women. When John and I were married in St Paul's Cathedral in 1987, it was by a woman priest whom I'd known since high school. We were grateful to have our marriage accepted, for we were both divorced. We then took part in the movement to have women included in the (then all-male) choir. When they were, we both took up the challenge of singing in the cathedral choir, for most of the years 1996-2003. When we joined the Methodists, our first Christmas was at Glenaven, before we were formally welcomed to the Mornington congregation in 2004. Our experience was of a diverse, open and inclusive community, in continuity with John's Methodist Church in the past, but also in continuity with contemporary Anglicanism.
3)What's this good news? We had heard the words of the good news in numerous ways, including in the English literature we studied. Even when not attending church regularly we still felt joined to it in some way. Yet the good news does not affect people so much when received just in the form of words, but when it's fleshed out in actions as it was fleshed in Jesus' actions of healing and helping, reconciling and including. During the many years I was not a member of any church, I was greatly helped -- especially as a solo parent in Wellington -- by other people who were. I didn't know they were church members at the time, but years later when visiting familiar Anglican churches in Wellington, I discovered the names of many of my friends and mentors on the nametags inside the door. Although all these people would have different theologies, from each other and from me, they in fact acted out our Methodist headline: Finding Good in everyone; finding God in everyone. That to me is the good news. They didn't try to 'convert' me, or bring me to the church building, or suggest I needed saving from my sins; they just treated me as someone of value. That's what I'd like to do for young people, especially those who've been treated otherwise elsewhere.
-- Helen Watson White