Tim (my husband) has been bugging me to write-up the experiences of the past week, but I’ve struggled to articulate things… because words fail – particularly in describing intense feelings, and atmosphere. So I have formed two short ‘stories’ locating the context, with a sequence of encounters with people, a multitude of scenes and conversations that hopefully will indicate their importance. And if none of it makes sense for you, tomorrow l promise to write something more logical.
Story One: About a year ago I received an email invite from the lovely Pentecostal academic, Dr Barry Chant to speak at a worship Conference run by Wesley International Congregation in the CBD. The WIC is one of the stately churches of Sydney, and falls under the banner of the Australian Uniting Churches. It is now clean and modern in both application and appearance. But its history and sensibility clearly stretches back to the Wesley brothers, and all the passion of the 18th century English radicals who eventually broke from the Anglican movement.
This particular email was a surprise to me – because, three weeks earlier, over coffee I had politely and relentlessly complained about an article Chant wrote, included in our core Theology reading, but originally written as an address for the Australian Pentecostal Bible Colleges. It seems my dogged perseverance to understand his point, and thinly veiled questions designed to sort through multiple side issues sufficiently convinced him, and I received an invitation to speak. It was a fantastic conference, and I loved it. I often lead worship, so preaching was fun!!! … But what impressed most was not meeting Christian radio host Sheridan Voysey (although my mother would enjoy that one), engaging with a crowd that had the spiritual energy of an unleashed typhoon, or the Kierkegaard quote on the wall of the venue ( – the point at which you realise perhaps your prepared message is under pitching). Anyways, more than these things, I loved the people.
One in particular. Armed with the appropriate water/mints/etc she was given the role of making sure I was looked after – and we just connected … her name is Jacqui. She is gorgeous. Pretty, funny, smart and witty, with the most beautiful pure heart. She laughed with me at my absolute inability to find the parking lot, and helped direct me out of the parking lot on the phone… and I couldn’t stop thinking that I wished we were friends.
Jacqui’s face played in my mind, with an associated thought “I wish we were friends“, and, six months later I met another girl I had a similar experience with. This led to the sudden revelation that I run around crazily giving various individuals the time and effort I feel they deserve – so I had a brainwave: a two-in-one appointment with Jac and Eudora in a central location. This led to coffee, and an incident in a Japanese restaurant (the three of us were unhurt but I found out I’m even louder and more embarrassing than I suspected). Following some details for which I cannot take any credit, Tim and I ended up in Wesley’s auditorium last weekend worshiping and praying with a group of combined churches.
Story Two: Around the same time, in another set of parallel encounters, the twisting and turning of conversations and strange connections, Tim and I ended up having dinner with Dr Mark Evans, from Macquarie University and his beautiful wife Lauren. Over the best haloumi cheese I have ever eaten, in a grungy cafe in our “home” of Newtown, Sydney we all conversed on the nature of church. Most of our chats before had been about education – Mark runs a genuine university department, hosted in a building that is like the Tardis, filled with creative rooms that facilitate learning – everything from film through to studios through to cool circular lounges… so here we were, with a segue in the conversation. And it seemed important.
It always intrigues me when people make a commitment to a person, an institution or a way of life… those kind of things easily slip past us without the appropriate attention. There are so many signals in the life of a pastor – little phrases, a turn of the head at the right moment, and suddenly you realise – this is a sign. And here I am watching God at work. Often, I find this occurs when a commitment is born. And they had finally found a church. I was so happy! He and Lauren described how it felt, looked, and what had attracted them. It sounded like a combination of the reality and authenticity of doing life with a variety of homeless Surrey Hills characters and a great idea. This diversity within the congregation was coupled with the thought that perhaps, maybe, possibly, you could not only talk about Social Justice, but you could enact it every Sunday. In a pub.
And so, last Sunday we found ourselves at 2pm rehearsing in Wesley’s 900 seat contemporary auditorium and then rushing straight to a little pub in the heart of Surrey Hills. The Sticky Bar houses an “emergent” Baptist church called ‘Imagine’ that draws anywhere from 25 to 40 attendees at any one time. In fact, they don’t care about the numbers – it’s not important. Each person who comes is meant to be there.
For Tim and I, this served as the most incredible opportunity to contrast the mediums and even the message of the churches – which if either, was a missional congregation? Did one feel more ‘church’ than the other? And which did we feel more at home in – the ‘institutional’ church, or ’emergent’ church? Because these questions seem to matter now we’ve stepped down from our pastoral position, and are free to vision our future.
Maybe one day I will write the various short films that play in my mind as I am throwing around these questions. But what overwhelmed me from the beginning of finding the car park at Wesley (HOW do I always miss that huge ramp?) through to leaving Surrey Hills in a panic, wondering if the incessant streams of attendants had noticed our lapsed parking ticket – was how much Church is home. In all its forms. We marveled at how much God was felt in both expressions. And at how much we love the church, with all her faults, her problems, her creaking bones and her simultaneous prepubescent thoughts. I stared out the window at an old English style row of terrace-houses in the dim pub lighting, reflecting while unsigned artists sang about love, about destiny and about lofty ideals – and I thought “this is completely, and utterly it. I’m home”. And right now, that’s about all I know.