When the future is upon us today!

From Rev Peter Beale

(Published in News First, November 2004 - monthly church newsletter, Warragul Uniting Church) 

If anyone has been watching mobile phone commercials lately they will have noticed that the latest phones come with colour screens, digital camera, FM radio, Internet, infrared and other wireless capabilities for connection to computers and TVs, plus much, much more. All this in a phone the size of two match-boxes! As I watched the ads, I thought “what would I want all that for? All I need is a basic phone.”

Just recently, the mobile phone I have had for over two years was getting to the point of needing a new battery. I had to charge it nearly every day! So I needed to decide whether to buy a new battery or update my phone. My phone company advised me that my 2-year contract had finished, and I could start a new one with a new phone. I asked for the most basic model to upgrade to, and was advised that on my call plan the basic phone came with all the facilities I mentioned above, and at no cost other than my usual charge each month. The decision was simple.

I ordered the phone and upon receiving it, I was faced with all the adapting troubles that come with anything new and different. At first glace the complexity of the device seemed overwhelming, and I wondered how long it would take me to get used to it. Yet very soon, having consulted the user manual several times, I managed to safely make and receive calls, and even work it so that a picture of Vicki comes up when she calls me!

Just like the incredible changes in technology that are affecting so many areas of our lives, we can find the changes in church life similarly daunting and we wonder if we can cope with them all.

Our congregations are getting older, and fewer in numbers, yet the call to ministry is as strong as ever. Doing things the way we always did them in the past is no longer an option for us. New ways of doing being church that suit who we are now (rather than who we were, or who we hope to become) must be put in place. As Hannes Schaefer warned in last month’s News First, these new ways must not create a church filled with individuals focusing totally on themselves, but a community of faith moving forward together.

Warragul congregation’s soon to be built new building in Sutton Street is one such new way. It has all the features needed to make it a structure that will fit the current activities of the congregation as well as allow for possible future expansion on the site. It is designed with the community of people who currently worship in mind.

There will be some in the congregation who will find it all too much to move from the comfortable and known worship space at St Andrews to a new high-tech building which may seem cold and spiritless at first. Nevertheless, the decision has been made and it is the right one.

Throughout the Western Mission Area, congregations will have to make similarly difficult decisions or be certain of continued decline until the congregations cease to exist. Unless we take heed of current trends, both within our congregations, and in the community, we are doomed to fail.

“How-to” books are of no use to us though. We need to be fully aware of who we are, and what community we are in, and start from there. As every congregation is unique, other models of ministry, however helpful, cannot simply be transplanted into our situation. This means that every congregation, big and small, needs to work out its solution. This is scary stuff and I fear too hard for some. Yet it must be done, for the sake of Christ and his Gospel.

Helping us to work through the changes to come is the challenging question I asked two months ago (given by Thomas Bandy), What is it about your experience of Jesus that this community (in which you live) cannot live without? How are you going with this vital question? I hope you haven’t just put it in the “too hard” basket.

My own role as an ordained minister must change rapidly to enable the ministry of people in the congregations. For example, my role as chaplain to the elderly must give way to my role as trainer and enabler, and many other changes besides. I won’t find these changes easy, but they must be made, and made quickly, for the time is short.