From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
The church is a community. A community where friendship is valued. A community where we gather together, look out for each other, and welcome other people who may come to join us. The church is, most of all, a friendly community.
During February and March, I was a regular and active participant in a community that shares all of these characteristics. It was a community that was welcoming and friendly, and it was comprised of people who were looking out for each other. But it’s not a church. It’s not a religious gathering.
Three mornings a week, for seven weeks, I was with the other people of my community. There was never more than a dozen there, and some days there have been only half that number. But the numbers don’t matter; it’s the friendship and the sense of belonging that matters. There’s always a strong sense of belonging, of commitment to a common cause, of being a community together.
The group is comprised of people, like myself, who share a common recent experience. We have all been in hospital, in recent times, to have joint replacement operations. The meeting place for this group of people is the Rehab Centre at the hospital where the operation took place. The program for each gathering involves one hour of exercise, under the oversight of a Physio, in the rehab gym; followed by 45 minutes of hydrotherapy in the heated pool that is adjacent.
The group thus has a common goal: we all want to work hard, to ensure that our operated bodies return to normal. We want to be able to bend our knee which has a new replacement part, as well as we can bend or other knee. We want to be able to sit, bend, and swivel using our hips, without constraint from the hip that now has a replacement joint.
So we encourage one another as we exercise. We share jokes, we sympathise about pain levels, we compare stories about distrusted sleep, we rejoice when somebody’s knee bend is measured as having moved five degrees over the weekend! There is a communal sense as we each individually go about our separate personal training programs.
Another fascinating feature of this group is the transient nature of the group. When I started, still hobbling on two crutches, scarcely able to bend my operated knee to 90 degrees, some people in the group were at week five or week six — walking without crutches or walking stick, ending and flexing, looking almost “normal”.
As they completed the program and left, and as I moved through week two—discarding one crutch— and then week three—moving to a walking stick—other people joined the group, with their crutches and restricted movement. And as they came, they were made to feel welcome: what’s your name? which leg was operated on? how is your pain level? how are you coping at home? what did you think about last night’s tv programme?
We welcomed new people, even as we ourselves had been welcomed in earlier weeks. And we established common interests, swapped stories, and shared personally, with these “newcomers”. It was a constantly changing group, always evolving in terms of membership and interests. Yet always, still, a group.
How many characteristics in what I have just described reflect the way that we think about, and talk about, church? A gathering of separate individuals, joined by a common goal, sharing stories, finding the point of contact, experiencing joy and laughter, working hard, welcoming new people, and progressing on in our individual goals whilst always holding the community together.
Many of these correlate with the ways that Andrew Smith has been encouraging us to act, as we seek to reach out beyond our established communities of faith, to make connections with people rightbwhere they are, to use this as a basis to share the Gospel, even to establish fresh expressions of church.
You might like to run a checklist of these factors through your own experience of your faith community. How are you doing in your place, with your group of people, at incorporating all of these characteristics into your faith community?
Having told the story of this community of which I have been a part for those enjoyable seven weeks, I want to add one further note: because I wasn’t able to drive for most of these weeks, and because Elizabeth was busy with her own ministry commitments, I was very glad to have the support of people from my home Congregation at Tuggeranong, who gladly drove me to the rehab sessions, and in some cases also drove me back home again.
Many thanks to Bill Lang (who drove me both to and from the sessions), Anne Vorobieff, and Iain Middleton over those weeks, as well as Ian Willis and Kayelene Sanders who stepped in on one week. Elizabeth and I are very grateful for your transporting me!
Rev Dr John Squires
Canberra Region Presbytery
Uniting Church in Australia
0408 024 642
blogs on ‘An Informed Faith’