Dear Friends,

Before you go any further – just wanting you to know that tonight at St Pauls, Manuka, at 7pm there will be a special prayer service for the Ukraine.

Today is also Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent! At prayers this morning we read parts of Matthew 6, and Lucy drew our attention to the assumption the passage makes that, as people of faith, we do faith!

We do alms giving (Matt 6:2). We do prayer (Matt 6:5). We do fasting and other forms of sacrificial living (Matt 6:16). And she made the link with Lent (this season of reminder to be people who do!) and my sermon on Sunday about Baptists being people who do!

Here’s how Sunday’s sermon ended!

As Allan Demond, a Baptist pastor from Victoria, had said in an address, “We need to lose some old, jaded stories. ‘Baptists don’t….’ is a sorry old yarn. It makes for bad jokes whether we are referencing a dance, a drink of wine, a deck of cards, a non-Disney movie…

Today, Baptists do!”

And this is our story! In this church, we Baptists do! We continue to call people to love and serve God, to explore what it means to follow Jesus today, to be led by the Holy Spirit. And we call people to be baptised and to join this church. If that sounds like you – please come and speak to me – today or whenever you get an opportunity.

In this church, we Baptists do! We work hard at community, navigating difficult issues while respecting people’s freedom of conscience and remaining in healthy relationships. And we continue to do community, despite all the challenges of a pandemic, making every effort, as Ephesians 4 says, “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in our bond of peace”, recognising the gifts bestowed by God, as 1 Corinthians 2 says, on us, and raising up and supporting in their ministry new leaders, new small group leaders, new youth coordinators, new deacons, and a new ministry team.

I want to add in that we are doing community tomorrow as we gather to remember Bev Galloway – to give thanks for her life and to comfort her family and each other. This is something communities do! This will be the first significant event in our church since density limits were lifted, so can I encourage you to wear a mask, and bring a plate of food to share and Bev’s family have also asked that people wear something colourful to remember Bev! If you are joining us or Zoom (or passing the invitation on) feel free to forward last Sunday’s bulletin (with the link) or just cut and paste this link – Zoom Service of Thanksgiving for Bev Galloway (Don’t be put off by the reference to our Sunday service at 10am. It is the right link!)

In this church, we Baptists also do mission. We do mission in our daily lives – it has been noted before in the National Church Life Survey and I am sure it will be said again – that this church shares its faith – not in big evangelistic programmes – but by thoroughly engaging, deeply engaging, with the lives of others, our friends and family and our community. We do mission through our Community Centre, too, a place where all are welcome – to quote Thomas Helwys – whether they are heretics, Turks or Jews – where we can share what matters to us, and they can share what matters to them in the spirit of genuine hospitality, not hospitality with strings attached. And we do mission – sharing God’s love and justice – as Lisa and Rebecca beautifully expressed last week – here in Canberra and as far away as Uganda.

And finally in this church, we Baptists do freedom! We do freedom for our younger people to explore faith. We do freedom for our older people to explore faith. We stand with other Baptist churches to preserve freedom of conscience as a value for our denomination, and we believe that freedom of conscience is part of creating a society where all can live freely and flourish. This is our Baptist story, and we want to continue sharing it with the world.

Following Sunday’s service was the February Church Meeting where Cecelia and I reported on what discipleship, community, mission and freedom have looked like in our church over the last three months. Many of you did not get a chance to hear those reports – so my report is included (below) and Cecelia’s report will be next week’s Sunday to Sunday.

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and being doing Baptists!” (Hebrews 10:24 with some liberties taken!)


Report to Church Meeting – 27th February 2022

On Christmas Eve I stood at the pulpit at Wesley Uniting Church and – apart from the choir – that sounded gorgeous, and was superbly conducted by James Carter, and our wonderful musicians, Roz Namgyal and Desmond Tan, and the people I’d asked to be involved – I looked out on a largely empty church (although I aware that there was also a Zoom congregation). Admittedly, I was in quarantine last Christmas, and perhaps it was the same then, but it was a shock to see the impact of the ongoing pandemic – and especially the new wave of Omicron – on congregational worship and congregational life.

Getting ministry up and going at the start of 2022 has been challenging. Many pastors I’ve spoken to, Baptist and non-Baptist, have shared how discouraged they are feeling – thinking this was the year things would go back to normal and having Omicron has put a dampener on their enthusiasm and their momentum all over again.

This is the nature of moving from a pandemic to an endemic. But I am going to borrow an image Alan Howe shared with me about running a marathon; how it is at this point where things get difficult that sometimes the less seasoned runners start to fall away, but those who are experienced, those who come from communities of experience and wisdom – who know how to motivate each other, how to support and encourage each other, how to be patient when everything isn’t the same as what is was – they can keep going!

But we also have some wonderful things to celebrate in December, January, and February.

Our Christmas Services were wonderful – even our Carols in the Park in the Hall! – was a real moment of joy! So thanks again to James whose marathon-worthy energy is much appreciated. And, Roz and Des, I want the two of you to play – I Saw Three Ships -at my funeral!

We had SMAD camp! Rain, hail, smoke, Covid and lymphoma cannot stop SMAD camp and we are so thankful to God for that – and thankful for all that you do, Penny, Ally and Andrew, and your incredible team.

And our programmes are largely up and running. Sunday School we paused because parents are still concerned, in Term 1, about vaccinations, but Youth Group is happening (Lizzy Holly, after a brilliant job, is handing on the torch to Cara!), the Older Youth Discussion Group is going, as are our small groups – Book Groups 1 & 2, Movie Group, Ladies Fellowship, 3:16, Thursday morning, Thursday night (very soon), Soup and Faith and the Girls Group/s. And I want to give thanks for these newer groups among our (younger) adults and ask you to pray for their leaders – Anthea and Din, Cecelia and Penny.

Our ministries are also up and running – Cooking Circles (soon), Kingston Babies and Kingston Kids (though we would love some more helpers!), Monica Holly’s and her sister Rebecca’ yoga classes, and the Community Garden.

We have also had the chance to explore and celebrate our distinctive Baptist Values. Usually we start the year by reflecting on our goals and it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on how our goals resonate with our Baptist values. And it has been god! At the Older Youth Discussion Group I asked them to say one thing they had learnt so far and I am going to give all of you the opportunity to do that now too. What has struck you in this series or what you have learnt that you didn’t know before…?

And we have had some wonderful community times. We enjoyed January’s BBQ at the manse, I missed morning tea with the Morrisons (but I’m sure that was fun!), last week’s church picnic was excellent – the games were fun and it was great to get to know some new people, and it has been wonderful to be together again today and to launch Thorwald’s book.

Which brings me back what I said this morning about being a church that does community and where I began with this report – in that empty Wesley service – and a bit of a challenge to you all.

We are still in a Covid world. There will be waves of Covid, new waves of Covid, and we need to be prepared to ride those waves, to keep thinking – as Alan says – in term of running a marathon.

And this means that not everything will go back to being the same. It means that societal changes around how we do commitment, how we do volunteering that were already happening have had a seismic push along. But I am confident that this church – this church as a seasoned marathon runner – will be able to creatively and energetically manage these changes.

It also means that it is more important than ever that we focus on community.

(I was listening to the results of a public servant survey here in Canberra taking about working from home, and it was saying that those more established in their careers felt quite comfortable being at home, but younger people were not benefiting from their experience and ideas, they were not feeling connected to their organisations, that coaching and mentoring was not taking place. That organisations might survive this way – but they wouldn’t thrive.)

As a church – we want to thrive – not just survive.

Some of you – because of your health needs – will need to stay mostly on Zoom – but don’t miss out on opportunities to talk and interact with others when these are presented.

But the rest of us (a bit like the way I used to dash in and out of the supermarket but now feel quite comfortable doing the grocery shgopping) need to just break the habit of staying home and come! Because we need you to turn up. We you need you to turn up in our lives – to encourage us – to call out our gifts – to help us identify new leaders – and to help us seek the mind of Christ together – to help us as a church not just survive – but thrive!

Rev Belinda Groves

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