From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
Presbytery met last Saturday, once again meeting online via ZOOM, maintaining appropriate precautions in the context of continuing and growing community transmission of COVID-19. The morning was spent in a series of small group discussions, under the guidance of Andrew Smith and Cameron Eccleston from Uniting Mission and Education, focussing on the first phase of a year-long Mission Planning process for the Presbytery as a whole.
The key element in these sessions was story-telling. Participants were initially invited to share stories in pairs, with first person A, then person B, telling of a way that they had experienced God at work in their local context. After ten minutes, one pair was paired with another pair, to form a group of four. Then person A retold the story just told to them by person B, and vice verse; and person C retold the story they had heard from person D, and again vice versa. There was lots of conversation bubbling through the groups!
After a break for morning tea, the groups of four were reconvened, and the invitation was to explore what stories from the Bible might inform the stories that they had heard from each other. Each group was then invited to offer one or two biblical stories to the larger group.
Participants see were invited to submit their stories in written form to the Presbytery office email. The whole process thus provides a collection of stories which the facilitators would work into a more cohesive form, for consideration and further discussion, at the next meeting of the Presbytery on May 21.
It was interesting to hear the various biblical passages that were selected to put alongside the stories that people shared from their own experience. I was struck by the depth of biblical literacy that was demonstrated across the Presbytery. Stories were drawn from many parts of the Bible: Gospels, Acts, letters, psalms, prophets, and Genesis.
What was surprising (to me) was that none of the groups selected a parable of Jesus. We know, from the first three Gospels, that Jesus was a great storyteller, and many of his parables were remembered, retold, collected, and eventually written down in the Gospels that we have. Nevertheless, the mode of telling stories that Jesus models was followed by those participating in the session.
One group identified the story of creation and fall, in Genesis 1–3, and linked that with Paul’s writing about redemption through faith in Christ, and then linked with the command of Jesus after his resurrection, to tell the good news to the whole world. Another group referred to the story of Jesus sharing what was available, and finding that a whole multitude of people was able to be fed; they linked this with the story of the early church in Acts, meeting together each day and sharing their possessions with one another.
A third group linked to the story told at the end of Luke’s Gospel, as two followers of Jesus walk to Emmaus; this story also speaks of hospitality and sharing. Another group related to the story of Philip and the Ethiopian, a black person, reflecting the theme of reaching out beyond the traditional boundaries to engage with people beyond, in Acts. Another New Testament story identified came from the end of Paul’s earliest letter, 1 Thessalonians, which told of showing concern for all people, and for our leaders.
A number of groups identified passages from Hebrew Scriptures. The words from the book of Isaiah, “behold I am doing a new thing” (Isa 43), and the oracle about fasting, experiencing the spring of fresh water, and rebuilding the ancient ruins (Isa 58), were both cited, along with two psalms (Ps 90 and 100) which speak of God at the centre of all of human life.
Jesus’s words encouraging us to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Matt 5) resonated with another group, while the promise of John 2:19, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”, was the focus for another group.
This is a wonderful selection of stories from scripture, which speak to people in our Presbytery in a wide variety of ways. Telling stories can be a powerful way to enter into the heart of the Gospel, to build community, and to gain a good sense of how God is at work in our midst.
Stay tuned for the next episode, when Presbytery gathers in May, to take the next steps in this important mission planning process. These sessions are open to anyone within the Presbytery, not just those elected as Presbytery members, so you can join in at that meeting. Just look for information in the newsletter closer to May 21!