There’s a café on the mezzanine floor of our Synod offices where you don’t meet if you want to discuss anything confidential. People and their friends from across the Synod meet there; no gathering remains secret when you order a long black from George’s.
Except for this season.
Like cafés and restaurants in every CBD across the world, it has sat, almost empty, since March. I was there with friends a week ago and we talked with the owner about the financial crisis for him and his staff, echoed in small businesses in Sydney and Melbourne, and London and Paris.
It focuses the mind. Does it focus our mission?
Like many, I have been in zoom and other online events ad infinitum since the pandemic began – standing committees and birthdays and morning teas and worship – and the thrill has faded somewhat. When I meet with people online, we have thoughtful conversations about hospitality and discipleship, about including those without internet access or ability, about how we will face this challenge.
Why are we only asking these vital questions now?
What might the Spirit be saying to the church as the pandemic labyrinth unveils itself? All too easily some of us have circled our wagons, holding our collective breath, or cutting and pasting our worship onto various media, waiting for the virus to extinguish itself.
Many of us, however, have asked critical questions about our worship, witness and service; but we needed to be asking them each week for the last four decades. Still others have embraced this time as opportunity, because that is how we understand our life in Christ.
How shall we bear witness to the risen, crucified One? What will flavour will our hospitality, as we invite people into our community of faith?
Neither our faith in Jesus Christ, nor our identity as disciples in the Uniting Church invites us simply to survive. If our first consideration is ourselves, we are neglecting the first call of our faith, to love our God and love our neighbour as ourselves.
The rigorous challenges of our faith have not arisen due to COVID-19, they are present always. It is only now, when our patterns of church and neighbourhood are comprehensively unsettled, that many of us dare to test the assertion that God will provide.
There are wonderful stories of creative, generous worship, thoughtful discipleship and gracious hospitality as we meet the opportunity of this coronavirus season. I give thanks to God for faithful disciples and congregations.
Christ who is present when he is preached among people is the Word of God who acquits the guilty, who gives life to the dead and who brings into being what otherwise could not exist. [Basis of Union, para.4]
This is who we are called to be.
How will I care for my friend in his café?
How will we trust ourselves to the Holy Spirit, so that our words will articulate the hope which gives us life – and offer that hope to others?
Through human witness in word and action, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ reaches out to command attention and awaken faith; he calls people into the fellowship of his sufferings, to be the disciples of a crucified Lord; in his own strange way Christ constitutes, rules and renews them as his Church. [Basis of Union, para.4]