As I mentioned on Sunday, last week I was in Melbourne, at my annual pastor’s retreat, a gathering of the ‘Baptist city pastors’ from each city in Australia and – this year – from Wellington, New Zealand! It was an encouraging and stimulating week, and as well as correcting my Baptist ecclesiology (listen to Sunday’s sermon!), we also talked about the function of ‘city churches’ (aka ‘cathedral churches’) and how they compare with suburban churches.
Canberra Baptist is a bit of both, I think, a city church and a suburban church, but it was helpful to think about our church considering the function of cathedrals – to be places of prayer, to be places of theological thought and places of refuge/hospitality.
CBC as a place of prayer
To what extent are we – as a church – a place of prayer for our community and the wider community?
We focus on prayer in our services and one of the conclusions at my retreat was that city churches tend to do prayer and worship very intentionally. It reminded me of a comment Rev Phil Waugh, from Mosaic Church, made when he preached here for the church anniversary. “Do you put this much work into the service every week?” Initially I thought, “Oh no, this is a special service,” but then thinking about how we are very intentional about our prayers and readings and the message and our songs, my answer was, “Well, actually, yes!”
We take time to pray in our small group gatherings and – certainly – at 8am weekly prayers. (Can I just put in a plug again for morning prayers? This is an incredibly valuable time for me – each morning at 8am. I would really encourage anyone to join us – whenever you can! The Zoom link is HERE (The password is ‘Currie’) But if there are others who would benefit from a similar group, but 8am is inconvenient, please speak to me and we will try to get something going!)
And I know that we are focusing on prayer in our personal prayers for each other.
I am currently talking to a small group who are interested in being baptised. (Can I encourage you to pray for them! We are planning to hold that baptism service on Sunday 5 November.) One of them said, “I want to be baptised because when I am in the church, I feel peace.” Another said, “I want to be baptised because I want to be closer to Jesus.”
I want CBC to continue to be a place of prayer – where people feel peace, where they feel close to God. So can I encourage us as a church to – as our reading on Sunday said – to persevere in prayer.
CBC as a place of theological thought
City churches also tend to be places of theological education and thought.
This comes out (I hope) in our preaching! It comes out in the content of discussion in our small groups. And it comes out in the calibre of our discussions. I am thinking about the Voice to Parliament Book Group and the New Vision of Mission Workshop, and I am thinking of the work that people – principally Megan, John Clark and John Higgins – but also Thorwald and Jeanette and myself – have put into the paper we are asking people to read and discuss and pray about this month – Same-sex Marriage and the NSW/ACT Baptist Association. We are hoping that once the church has had a chance to read and own this document, we will be able to share it with other churches – looking for resources, for theological education and thought, in this space.
We are a church of ‘thoughtful’ theological thought, and we can continue to lean into that.
CBC as a place of refuge/hospitality
There have been many opportunities for hospitality over the last quarter – our monthly mornings teas, the High Tea in May, ‘Chilli Con Carne Con Congregation’ in July, the Newcomers Lunch in July, and the Young Families Lunch – also in July – so I have had a bit of a break in September. But on Sunday 8October everyone is invited to the manse for a sausage sizzle after church (Aron loves any excuse for a sausage sizzle!)
There have also been opportunities to offer refuge/hospitality to people with more complex pastoral needs. Though these are sometimes challenging – and the outcomes are not always what we would have hoped for – my prayer is that in those interactions we have shared something of God’s love for all people. I want to thank the pastoral care team for their work too in this area.
The picture is St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne. I was very impressed by their enormous banner stating their commitment to the Uluru process and saying ‘Yes’ to the provision of a First Nations advisory body in the Constitution. (Here’s a close up!)
I believe the referendum is also an opportunity to offer hospitality to others. We have spent time over the last couple of months providing spaces for people to consider issues; the Common Grace event in May, the Kitchen Table Conversation in June and the Big Book Group in July. We have remembered the legacy of this church – of our courage and commitment to justice in making an apology and acknowledging sovereignty. We’ve heard Micah Australia – the peak body of aid agencies – state that if they are seeking to empower indigenous people elsewhere, they should do the same here. And – if you read Tim Costello’s article in our bulletin last week – he calls for Australian church leaders to be bolder! Four in five Indigenous Australians are asking for a voice, he says, and Christians represent a larger share of the Indigenous population than the population at large. We should offer them our support.
We have not put a motion on supporting the Voice to the church, but I will do so – as your minister – where possible, and if some of you have ideas about creative and supportive actions we can engage in – please let me know and we can share those.
Finally – we are also, as a church, providing a place of refuge for other Baptists who share our commitment to being Baptist in how we come together as churches, and how we read Scripture and how we want to move forward into a life-giving future. In October we will be hosting the first gathering of the Open Baptists (there’ll be more info about this in the bulletin this week) and I think we should be so proud and delighted that this is happening in our church – that we as a city church in the nation’s capital are offering refuge and hospitality to our nation.
Grace and peace to you,