By the end of this year – twelve months since I retired – I will have taken at least 26 services – probably the most since I stopped being a parish minister in 1978. I have loved it as it has given me a different experience of the church. And it has also alerted me to an alarming emerging challenge for the Uniting Church in WA and I think the wider church community here.
Most of the congregations, in my opinion, run the risk of simply becoming ‘retiring villages’.
I was North Metro Regional Pastor for 3 or 4 years. In that time I visited all the congregations and worshipping communities in the region at least once. I have also been a member of the Pastoral elations and Placements Committee (PR&PC) twice in the last 10 years. One of the things I did as regional pastor was to arrange for a bus tour of the northern regional development.
The Uniting Church has not moved north beyond Ocean Reef Rd except for Merriwa, a UnitingCare West facility with a 7 or 8 foot fence around it which has not been able to attract Uniting Church people to grow and develop a congregation.
I started to think about how many church buildings and congregations have closed since Uniting Church Union. Now of course there was some necessary consolidation, however, I gave up counting at 16. As a church we are shrinking whilst Western Australia is growing – as is the pain, the despair, the violence, the powerlessness and the loneliness.
Jesus of Nazareth believed change was possible and his life and ministry bear testimony to that. The gift of the Spirit and birth and growth of the church do as well.
The twentieth century was significant for so many world changing events. This was certainly true for the church too. For example, Christendom had existed since the 4th century and ceased to exist by the 1950’s. Coca Cola invented Santa Claus who replaced Father Christmas. This later led to the world taking Christ out of Christmas and replacing it with XMAS, which nowadays commences late July and seems to go into January. Easter is now well and truly a target – Good Friday is such a delicious day for sport. Yet as a society we desperately seem to yearn for a special ‘religious’ day. Thank God for the ANZACs!
Where is our belief, our hope and our faith?
Rev Tom Wilson