Day of Pentecost
First reading: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm: Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Second reading: 1 Cor 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
Gospel: John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
John’s Pentecost arrives with less fanfare than Luke’s but perhaps with greater weight.
No rushing wind, no tongues of fire,
no speaking in languages not learned,
just Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on disciples.
Pastoral Letter from Rev Dr John Squires; Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
Easter is Ending
Easter is ending. The season of Easter, that is. The fifty days that stretch from the early hours of Easter Sunday, when the tomb was found to be empty, to the excited celebration of Pentecost Sunday, the so-called “birthday of the church”, when the Spirit rested on the gathered believers.
The season of Easter has fifty days. Every year, this season heads singlemindedly towards the festival of Pentecost, which, of course, means the 50th day. That is the time when we focus on the gift of the spirit.
The ancient Jews, who first celebrated this festival long before the time of Jesus, called Pentecost “Shavuot” in their language, Hebrew. “Shavuot” means Weeks—and this festival was marked by counting “a week of weeks”. Seven days to a week, and so seven weeks itself was a week of weeks. 7 X 7 = 49; thus Pentecost, the day after the 49th day, was so named.
Pentecost falls on 31 May this year. (It moves around, because it is linked, by the above calculations, to Easter—and Easter itself depends on when the full moon falls.) So, over the last seven weeks, since the middle of April, we have been in the extended season of Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection.
Christian faith is grounded in the claim, that on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. It is integral to all the creeds that the church has developed over the centuries. It sits as part of the bedrock tradition which the apostle Paul affirms in his letters to early communities of faith. And it forms the climax to three of the Gospels which are included in our New Testament (only three, not all four, since there is no risen Jesus who actually appears in Mark, neither in physical form nor in any other form.)
So how have we celebrated resurrection during this season of Easter in 2020? It has been a most unusual Easter season—quite unique, in fact, because the onset of the COVID-19 virus has meant that no church door, not any church door across Australia (and across most of the world), has been open. Not on Easter Sunday. Not on any subsequent Sunday during the season of Easter. Not on any day, in fact, throughout those 49 days—and before that, earlier, not since the Sunday some weeks earlier, when the Federal Government, in Australia, declared that the virus meant it was too dangerous to meet for worship in church buildings.
Resurrection invites us to celebrate new life. That causes us to reflect, perhaps, on what life has been like, for us, during this season of Easter. In what way have we been catapulted into a way of living that equates with “new life”? All too often, I have heard about what people are missing during this current period—we miss our worship together in person, we miss our coffee and chat after worship, we miss being able to hug each other when we see them, we miss visiting our family members, and so on.
What about we ask: what new things have we appreciated? What has happened over the past ten weeks that has opened new doors, invited new activities, fostered new relationships? After all, the resurrection is about a new way of being, a new way of living, a new experience in faith. So let’s ask, what new things have occurred?
In my own experience, using online technology has enabled me to make good “face-to-face” contact, often on a regular basis, with ministry leaders (both lay and ordained) from right around this Presbytery. That has saved many kilometres of travel, many litres of fuel, and many hours behind the wheel—and produced far fewer emissions into the atmosphere!
And I know that a number of people have learnt new skills: how many new ZOOM masters are there, now? And some of our Congregations are taking part in Florida’s Reimagined, planting bulbs in the church grounds which will be a riot of colour in spring.
For Congregations where ZOOM breakout rooms have been utilised, people are talking about the new friendships they now have, the deeper conversations they have had with people they have known for a long time, the new perspectives on life that they have encountered. Our Presbytery meeting offered this opportunity, for people from different regions across the Presbytery to talk together.
These things can each be a pointer to the ways that Easter lead us into “new life”. What new things have been taking place for you, that you can celebrate and enjoy? And perhaps keep hold of, beyond the time of restrictions on meeting in person. What can we take from this very different Easter season, into our walk of faith in the days ahead?
Pastoral Letter from Rev Andrew Smith, Presbytery Minister: Congregation Futures
Being a church with no walls
During these times of COVID-19 restrictions we have become a church with no walls. Through decisions made not to meet in our church buildings, but rather to meet online or over the phone or by hard copies delivered to homes, we are discovering how to be church apart from our buildings – effectively making us a church with no walls.
Although the image of “church with no walls” has this particular relevance to our current situation, it is usually used to indicate welcome and inclusion of anyone who’d like to come along, i.e. there are no walls to keep people out. Equally, there are no walls to keep us in.
No walls to keep us in ….hmmmm.
You may not have thought of our church walls functioning to keep us in. Of course, we are not imprisoned physically within our church walls – kept there against our will. But our church walls can represent the limits of our relational reach as church. Mike Frost is aware of this in his handy little book “Surprise the World – The Five Habits of Highly Missional People”. That is why his habits about blessing and eating make the point of including people who are not members of our church. The habits are:
“I will eat with/bless three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of our church” (emphasis added).
Because our congregations are familiar with much of the focus of our time, energy and resources being on the relationships within the walls of the church, we need to be urged on to relationships beyond the walls of the church.
In this COVID time we have already learned new ways to be “church with no walls” in terms of worship and caring for each other. Let’s build on these gains by learning new ways to be “church with no walls” in terms of growing relationships with our local communities.
Here are some encouraging stories of how this is already happening in the Presbytery.
Braidwood Community Church on the Radio
With church buildings closed for worship, and few congregation members with the capacity to connect with online services or email resources, the suggestion to the Braidwood Uniting Church of a church service on the local radio station made complete sense – everyone has a FM radio in the house (or at least in the car!). So began the weekly radio “Braidwood Community Church” on Sunday mornings. A relationship of trust has built up with the station so that original processes for vetting service content are no longer needed. The Uniting Church extended the offer to other local churches to be involved, and with them contributing to the weekly services it really is a community church. There has been encouraging feedback from listeners as far away as Melbourne, Central Victoria and Central NSW. Listen live to 2BRW Braidwood Community Radio 88.9FM Sunday mornings at 10am – “During this time of social distancing, the Churches of Braidwood present a 30-minute service”. (https://braidwoodradio.com.au/)
Hairdressers with their Ears to the Ground – Eurobodalla
We all know that hairdressers have their ears to the ground for what is going on in the local community. Hairdressers have a good reputation for listening to customers talk their way through a haircut. Eurobodalla Uniting Church has connected with a local hairdresser to gain an impression of the overall wellbeing of the community in the aftermath of the bushfires and now the COVID-19 restrictions. This will help form a picture of the local community to guide the church in how it goes about ministering through community chaplaincy.
Eden Café Owners Judge Church ‘Cake Off’
St George’s Eden Uniting Church annual Mother’s Day cake competition took a turn this year with local café owners invited to be guest judges. Businesses and local community are struggling during these times of restrictions, and so another connection with the local community through this church cake competition was welcomed. The cakes were baked. Photos taken that could be sent around via email and social media. Then the cakes were submitted for the all-important taste test by the guest judges.
These are three encouraging stories about congregations learning to be churches without walls – engaging in relationships with their local communities. How is your congregation learning and growing in being a church without walls?
Reflection by Rev Elizabeth Raine:
Minister at Tuggeranong Uniting Church & Chair of Pastoral Relations Committee
Reimagining the church
I have noticed, and you may have noticed too, a lot of re-imagining going on of late. The most obvious example we have in Canberra at the moment is the dispersed Floriade festival where the organisers ‘reimagined’ the festival and gave out bulbs and flowers to many churches and community groups, including my own congregation at Tuggeranong Uniting. We planted these flowers, with one bed in the shape of the UCA dove, and erected a sign proclaiming “Floriade Reimagined” with the intent of inspiring some hope, anticipation and wonder in our local community.
In my inbox this week, I found other reimaginings. From Airbnb, I had ‘Reimagine your space’ that advised me to beautify my inside space by freshening it up with some bold wallpaper, lights and added textures, and to bring the outdoors inside and add some life and energy with suitable greenery. Domain newsletter recommended that I reimagine my pantry and other disorganised areas in my life by decluttering and developing a new organising system.
I found myself thinking this reimagining resonates quite well with the reading from Acts 2 this week. Here were the disciples, together in one house and wondering what they were going to do next. Then bang! Along comes the holy spirit to freshen and liven things up, even to the point of bringing the disciples into the outdoors from the house they had been living in and providing each with a flame-like light on their heads. Speaking boldly to the crowd in the native languages of those gathered there, the disciples tell the exciting story of God’s coming in Jesus, a story reimagined from long-held traditions to one people and now extended to everyone. The early church had been born.
As we wait for restrictions to be eased back and start thinking about when we may be able to meet in small groups or as a church again, perhaps now is the time to start reimagining what we might look like as a church and reorganise ourselves into a new system that is better orientated to our 21stcentury communities. Until a vaccine is developed, there will be stringent requirements around what number can meet safely in our buildings, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols. We probably will not be able to meet together in large numbers for some time. The microphone will not be able to be shared. Morning tea and communion will be challenging in terms of how we share objects between people.
In this space between what was and what will be, like the disciples we need to do some discerning. We need to try and grasp that the virus has affected how people gather, how people live, how they think and how they relate to each other.
We will need to think through our mission strategy. People will still be wary, grieving, in need, and hopefully asking some deep questions. What can we, as a church, offer into this space?
Some things we could be pondering include:
How we still offer an online church where people can gather that can’t attend on Sunday mornings; consider being a church of small groups rather than being entirely centred on larger congregations; think of different kinds of worship at different times to Sunday; consider how we could use our facilities in more missional ways; think about how we could relate better to those outside our congregation; think about how we become missional people rather than Sunday morning attenders and management people.
When the disciples gathered together for this Pentecost they found themselves swept up in a chaotic movement by the force of the spirit. They were compelled to leave behind much of their accustomed worship practices and traditions and were pushed to start cultivating what would become known as the Christian Way. They put far less emphasis on gathering and much more emphasis on making disciples.
This very early church never gathered around buildings and budgets, it was comprised of small communities that centred around sharing their story of Jesus, and the faith, hope, and love that defined him and his ministry. It was defined, not by where and when they gathered on Sunday, but by how they served God in community.
How might we reimagine this church? How might we use this opportunity to discern where the spirit is moving us and reflect a new revelation of the Christian story?
We have an opportunity presented to us that allows us to clean out what is not working or needed anymore, and to replace it with something alive, relevant and bursting with the life and hope of the gospel story. Let’s not waste it.
Fill our rooms with sound,
with wind, with rushing;
bowl us over, unsettle us,
ruffle us with your feathered
wings, Spirit Holy, Spirit Breath.
Float your fire above us,
dance your flames, radiate
your heat, delight us,
ignite us with your flickering
tongues, Spirit Holy, Spirit Fire.
Flit on our voices with words
that others will understand,
speak in us, sing through us,
vocalise your force
of life, Spirit Holy, Spirit Friend.
Rev Sarah Agnew