Are we there yet?
When my children were little, we lived in Melbourne, but their grandparents lived in both South Australia and Queensland. We have great memories of hours and hours in the car, the wide-open road and the big sky in front of us, the sound of the Christian musician Colin Buchanan or an audio book of the Narnia Chronicles, sometimes grumping from the three children from the back seat, and, best of all, the peace and quiet when everyone but the driver was asleep. And the incessant question, ‘are we there yet?’. Not yet, but it’s not long now. My children mostly appeared to be satisfied with the response that we were getting closer, as I saw the road continue to recede in the distance through the rear-view mirror.
In recent months I’ve been reading a book with the discomforting title, How to Lead When you Don’t Know Where You’re Going. It was recommended to me by a leader from another Christian denomination. It has the subtitle: ‘Leading in a liminal season.’ Liminal comes from the Latin word limen which means threshold, that is, the space between outside and inside. Imagine you are standing on the front porch of a house you’ve never been to before. You’ve been invited by people you don’t really know. You’re nervous, but also curious. What will you find inside? Will you receive a warm welcome?
Living in a liminal time is certainly challenging. That’s where I’ve been for the last few months, between my election as District Bishop and the conclusion of my ministry at St John’s Unley. I’m both excited and nervous about what is ahead of me.
None of us know what’s going to happen next year or next decade, let alone the next minute. Change is a constant, but it seems to be getting exponentially quicker. Many of the issues that Australian society is grappling with were not on the agenda when I began my pastoral ministry in 1993: identity politics, multiple ways of understanding human sexuality, climate change, polarisation of political views, a growing gap between rich and poor, and the relegation of faith to the sidelines.
Churches in societies like Australia find ourselves in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place. The general public don’t listen to our voice like they once did. People speak against us, or just ignore us. We feel that we don’t make the kind of impact that we once did, and we feel disheartened. It’s not a case of ‘are where there yet?’ but ‘where are we heading?’.
Back to the road trip. As a family, we did know where we were heading, but we didn’t know exactly what would happen along the way. There could be roadworks, diversions, a sick child, a mechanical issue with the car. But we trusted that we would get there. We know that the road for the church is bumpy, and we face unexpected challenges, whether as a congregation or individuals. Yet God is in the driver’s seat, directing us to the final destination, which is his renewal of the whole of creation through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ.
In the month of July, we heard the whole of chapter eight of Paul’s Letter to the Romans in worship. In this remarkable chapter, Paul gives us a robust confidence in the God who is on our side. He proved that by not sparing his son but giving him up for us all. At the personal level, this means that there is now no condemnation for anyone who is in Christ Jesus. There are no ifs and buts with God. Jesus’ cross is the proof of his love and forgiveness. We are no longer at the mercy of our sinful nature. Nothing that earth or heaven can throw at us can separate us from God’s love. We know where we are going. But we are not there yet.
Instead, we live in a complicated, confused and messy world. The immediate future is uncertain and difficult. ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,’ (Romans 8:22) Paul says. And there are times when we find ourselves groaning with it. But even then, Paul steers us to the hope that God has given us in Christ. A new beginning is on the way: ‘For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.’ (Romans 8:19)
Times may be challenging, but this is the best time for hope to shine. That’s how I feel as I begin my service as your bishop. On this journey, I look in the rear-view mirror and I’m so thankful for the ministry of retiring bishop, David Altus. I thank God for his calm, wise, faithful and hopeful leadership. I am thankful for all those alongside of me on the journey: those who serve on District Church Council, assistant bishops Stephen, Adrian and Joel, the staff in District Office, and each one of you, faithful witness to Jesus in your congregation and community. I am looking forward to hearing your stories and learning how I can best support you and your congregations.
The SA-NT District is bigger than our congregations. We are linked in ministry with schools, aged care facilities, disability support and community care. I see great opportunities for us to serve alongside LESNW, Lutheran Care, Lutheran Disability Services and our aged care institutions, and to build on our shared history of the Christian faith active in love.
At the recent District Synod in Victor Harbor, the District Church Council shared with you a simple vision of what it means for us to be church today:
Real Grace – where our relationship with God is restored.
Real Life – where God’s love changes the way we live.
Real Community – where we extend God’s love to others and learn to bring the good news into each other’s lives.
God has called us to a road less travelled, where the church is a place where people can belong and find meaning, restoration, comfort and strength in Jesus, through grace alone, and where they can also find acceptance by real people, by you and me. This is what it means to be God’s remnant, servant people in the world. I welcome your insights about what this means for you and your congregation. I also ask you to pray for me as Solomon prayed, ‘Give your servant a discerning heart.’ (1 Kings 3:9a)
Where are we going? We know what our ultimate destination is. We know that we are the people of God. We know that ‘creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.’ That’s some kind of promise, and an unimaginable good future. We’re not there yet, and we know that there will be twists and turns along the road. But we know that God has got everything in hand, for the sake of his church and his plan to reconcile the world to himself.
This article first appeared in the September 2023 edition of Together magazine. Bishop Andrew Brook was installed as SA-NT District Bishop on 3 September. Photo above, from the installation service, by Amy Dahlenburg.
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