From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
The April meeting of Standing Committee of Presbytery adopted recommendations from the Mission Strategy Committee about a strategy for engagement to grow mission in and through our Presbytery. Part of the strategy includes identifying the strengths (of people and other resources) that help a congregation move more in the mission of God. The deep spring for these strengths is delighting afresh in the Christian narrative.
As a means of helping congregations connect their part in the mission of God with the deep spring of Christian narrative, congregations are invited to identify a Biblical story that expresses their mission identity. Recently, Braidwood Uniting have begun to find more of their mission identity in the story of Simeon and Anna as they see Jesus presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22-39). Here is how Braidwood tells the story:
“This narrative is the story of two older people, one male, one female, spending their last years in the church they have served and invested in for many years. People come into their space, and Simeon and Anna naturally share what they have seen. Why did Luke, the particular man of accuracy and detail, include a story in his Gospel about old people living their life in the church? Luke seems to be laying a foundation for the community that honours and values older people who live out their Christian life by hanging around the church grounds where the doors are kept open.
To be “outward looking” and missional in a senior’s congregation looks a little different to the norm: it creates an expression of Church that is unfamiliar to many. While the world hides away the aged, those that are wrinkled and stooping, the church has an opportunity and a mandate from both Luke and Paul (1 Corinthians 12:22-23a), to show particular honour and attention to those in the 3rd age.
Both Simeon and Anna know their time on earth is short, but rather than hide away from the world, they choose to be found regularly on church grounds. Simeon has been a leader in this sacred space, and now spends much of his time waiting for Jesus to come. Anna, a widow of many years, knows that outside of church family life is lonely and lacks meaning, and now spends much of her time occupied with spiritual disciplines, waiting for Jesus to come. Simeon and Anna are strengthened, enriched, and find meaning by spending time in the church and worshipping God as they have expressed their devotion for a whole lifetime. Others move in and out of their sphere of influence, being touched by their grace, steadied by their faithfulness, and blessed by their presence. Stories are told, and there are many a story for each and every situation, and time stretches into eternal moments, as the arrival of Jesus is awaited.
Why is this narrative the story of mission at Braidwood? Older people, of both genders, are found on church grounds, worshipping God in the same way they have expressed their devotion for a whole lifetime. The wider church community honour the presence of Simeon and Anna in their midst. They bring hope for the coming of Jesus to other worshippers, in their holy space, and people from beyond the community sense this as they move around on church grounds. The Temple keeps the doors open for the Simeon’s and Anna’s, for other worshippers and community members and provides a designated spiritual space.
The congregation at Braidwood UCA is made up of Simeon’s and Anna’s: retired leaders who have invested in the congregation and wider community for decade upon decade; widows and widowers whose “immediate family” has become those they connect with on church grounds; people who are waiting for Jesus to come and take them to their heavenly home. The Braidwood UCA desires to keep the doors open for the aged, for other worshippers and community members and provide a designated spiritual space where all can be enriched and hear about the total inclusion of the Kingdom of God.”
The way that Braidwood UCA tells itself (and others) this story is a great strength to them as they make mission plans to expand their Op Shop on the church grounds. Already the Op Shop draws elderly folk and young families to its open days. Already the shoppers are enjoying more than just inexpensive items for sale. They are also valuing time to be in community with each other and the shop volunteers. The plans to double the size of the shop and include covered outdoor areas are aimed at making the space even more inviting for easy times of being in community on the church grounds.
The mission plans to increase the ministry hours of part time Pastor Julie Fletcher by a further 8 hours/week are to help resource the community time of the Op Shop, with plans to build on the interest in establishing a community of faith meeting in the Op Shop. There are also plans to grow the relationships with the local Summerfield estate for over 55’s to offer a community of faith meeting in the estate.
Such a Biblical story can be very powerful for the mission identity of a congregation. The story urges Braidwood on to take active steps to see others move in and out of their sphere of influence, being touched by their grace, steadied by their faithfulness, and blessed by their presence. And the benefits of adopting the Biblical story just keep on coming … one of the older people in the congregation shared how reading the Biblical story in the mission plan helped her feel valued about being old!!