A mandarin is not a failed orange

What do Katanning WA and Lincoln NZ have in common?

During April, both hosted gatherings of people passionate about ministry in rural settings. One over-arching message is: small and rural matters!

Setting the scene for the 100 delegates in Lincoln for the International Rural Churches Association (IRCA), Dr Rosemary Dewerse told us the story of Parihaka. This Maori village was being claimed  by colonisers. In 1881, as armed cavalry rode in they were met first by children sitting in the road singing, then teenage girls skipping and then gifts of food. Eventually two Maori chiefs, Te Whiti and Tohu, along with many others, were imprisoned, but their commitment to nonviolent resistance did not waver.

Te Whiti’s conviction was that taking up arms would lead to more deaths, so instead they persistently pulled up surveyors’ marker pegs, built their own fences and ploughed up the settlers’ roads.

The scene Rosemary was setting for the conference was ‘God’s vision for our world – how then shall we live?’

What do we need to remember, to take-up, or to lay down as we immerse ourselves in the biblical narrative of a creator who has a grand vision for a good world? Our flourishing lies in love for  God, for self, for neighbour and for Earth as we live the justice, righteousness, mercy, humility, compassion and Sabbath taught in our Scripture.

Delegates reviewed the state of the church, global trends, challenges and opportunities and wondered ‘what might be?’ as they heard thought provoking case studies from different rural contexts.

One keynote presenter, Jerry Marshall, shared insights and offered resources from the ‘Germinate’ project of the Arthur Rank Centre in the UK. The project is dedicated to ‘helping rural churches  and communities flourish in innovative, creative and practical ways’.

Rev Tom Brackett reflected that God’s intention is to partner with us, and that God is vulnerable to our ‘yes’ or ‘no’. He  reminded us that something is always being birthed and something is always dying. New comes from ashes, the future is being birthed in our now. We are to wake-up to the seeds bursting forth  in our times.

Tom has helped foster 150 new ministries; he encouraged us to nurture longings within each other and ourselves, saying, “When our longing exceeds our fear we can try on new behaviour.” He is  keen to visit rural WA, so feel free to contact me if you would like to organise a visit.

‘A mandarin is not a failed orange!’

This truth shone from both the IRCA conference and the Rural Retreat held on the last weekend in April at Kobeelya, Katanning, back in WA. As congregations in WA become faith communities in response to changes in wider society, can we embrace this era and reframe how we speak of the church from ‘decline’ to ‘evolution’? How can small communities best be supported as they wrestle with the essence of church and liberate worship practices?

Small, often ecumenical, Christian communities can be sweet mandarins implementing the dream of God for a good world.

A highlight of being in Katanning was to be welcomed into the Mosque by Imam Alep Mydie. The town is distinctive as a safe place for migrants and refugees, with fifty language groups living harmoniously.

For more music, prayer, art, study, exploration work and conversation, come and share with us at the rural retreat in Kellerberrin from 10 to 12 August.

For more information, email ruth.vertigan@wa.uca.org.au. For more information on the Germinate project visit germinate.net.

Ruth Vertigan

Top image: Imam Alep Mydie (left) welcomed Uniting Church minister Rev Gordon Scantlebury (right) and other guests at the Uniting Church WA Rural Retreat to the Katanning Mosque.

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