‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one’ – John 17: 20. Just before Jesus is arrested, he prays this prayer for the church. Right at the point of conflict – Jesus prays for unity.
Today, to mark the anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia, we embody Jesus prayer in our patch of the church, we embody the vision of the founding mothers and fathers of our Uniting Church. We are not all worshipping in our separate churches, we come together as one.
Jesus’ prayer for the church echoes down the ages and is a pray for us here this morning.
‘I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ – John 17: 26
Jesus is not praying for a worship service, or a theological stand point, or a type of community or a suit of buildings or a particular location in a suburb. Jesus is praying for a group of people: He is praying for us in whom God is made known. Us who encounter God revealed in Jesus and open ourselves to have God’s love made known to others through our living. Us who seek to be church.
Once a young man asked his elder: ‘what is the church? The elder answered: ‘the church is what’s left over when the buildings burn down and the priest leaves town. The church is the people in whom God dwells.
The word church comes from the Greek Kyriakos meaning belonging to God. The church is a group of people who belong to God, the body of Christ, the communion of saints.
We are here this morning to consider a vision for the church in our neighbourhood, in this part of Melbourne – Kew, Hawthorn, Auburn, Deepdene, Canterbury. We are here to consider what it means to be the people of God for whom Jesus prays:
‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me … that they may all be one’ – John 17: 21
Jesus prays not only for us who believe, but also on behalf of those who may come to believe through our words and engagement – that we all may be one.
Easier said than done – we are 7 separate congregations of people with 7 different stories to tell about our communities and heritage and culture.
We know that all 7 of the church buildings were established by faithful people who settled in this part of Melbourne in the 1800’s and had a vison to be witnesses to the gospel. It was a time after the gold rush, when a bridge was build across the Yarra River and settlers came with money in their pockets and built homes and gathering places for each denomination. At that time half the population was in church on Sunday mornings and church buildings were the social and community hubs of the time. The buildings were perfect to support the life of the church of that day and age.
As the proverb says: ‘those who marry the spirt of the age will soon be widows’. That age is over and widows we all become unless we move with the unfolding of the times.
Let’s be honest. Where once, every church was full. In 2017, we are 7 church communities with about 250 members combined in a 4.5 km radius with $100 million worth of property assets. With a combined membership less than any one of the 7 once were, we all are facing substantial challenges when we look to supporting future ministry and mission. We are an asset rich church, but cash and people poor. Our children have gone and we are like widows.
This being said, each week through the Boroondara Community Outreach, Spirituality Centre, Choirs, U3A, public housing, language schools, funeral, baptism and wedding ministries, festivals and community partner groups we still touch thousands of people’s lives.
With a new model for a new era, together we could be a truly inspiring presence in this part of Boroondara. Together we offer many worshipping styles, mental health and wellbeing ministry focus, capacity to provide social housing, community learning and connection points. The Spirt of the age is shifting, the models of mission have changed. There is a new era and still Jesus prays… and still we pray…
In July each congregation will have an opportunity to decide if you’d like to join together as a network of churches. As a network we have a common church council and share some resources to support mission regionally. We get to know each other and find points of common interest and renewed energy. Our ministers work as colleagues in a team. We reach out to our neighbourhoods and invite them with clarity to join us and we grow as a church.
It is time for a new vision for the new era. A new vision grounded in this same prayer Jesus has been praying down the ages. A vision to be the people of God who know God’s love living in us, a love that comes from before the foundation of the world and flows with transformational power in the life of the church – through the veins of the people of God. A prayer that calls us to share together, trust one another and be one church…
Now is the time to come together with a vision to renew our identity as God’s people:
• A vison to consolidate our activities to strengthen and promote the things we are doing well.
• A vision to support emerging ministries that nurture the next generation
• A vision to consolidate and restore our buildings so that they support our mission and generate income to maintain our ministry.
• A vison to energies our people so that as one body God’s love will live in us as we live in God.