A Tale of Three Churches in Australia
The first church: In Port Lincoln, a center for tuna fishing in Australia, this church was built in a classic architectural style. However, there were rugs hanging out front with For Sale signs on them. The church had been sold to a commercial enterprise. Apparently low attendance could not sustain a pastor. I found myself wondering: is Christian faith no longer relevant here? And is it not relevant to young millennials? Is it not even relevant to older folks?
The second church: Booleroo Whim (Booleroo may be from an aboriginal word for soft mud) was named for a well. One of the few with reliable water in the 1870s when the district was settled. Not much of a town really, although there was a post office and a store at one time. A horse walked around the well drawing bucket after bucket of water for the local farmers. The horse and the well are long gone.
Not far from the well a church was built about this time in the traditional style. On a clear but cold morning I drove almost an hour past green crops of wheat and beans, and yellow canola. There I attended the service. The creek which bordered the church was dominated by large gum trees (eucalypts) and the screeching of galahs. (A pretty cockatoo with a pink breast).
As I exited the car, a family with six kids aged 2 to 15 trundled into the church. Apart from Bob and Jan, my friends who manage the service, there were only two others in the church: a doctor and a farmer. With such a small number of attendees I wondered again: was Christian faith not relevant in this part of the country? I soon found out.
Jan played the organ while Bob projected the words up on a screen, and we all sang with gusto. I was astonished when several of the well-behaved children raised an arm in praise during the singing. Their father was the preacher and he delivered a challenging message about how much we truly value our faith in this present life, and whether it’s benefits can be stolen from us if we are not careful.
Afterwards, we gathered in the back room to eat and socialize. The pumpkin soup and curried-egg sandwiches were followed by apricot cobbler topped off by warm yellow custard (my favorite). The service was special, the lunch was delicious, and the warmth of the Spirit of God was present on that frosty morning despite only thirteen attendees. I was reminded of Jesus…. he didn’t organize a mega-church…….he just invested his secrets in twelve men, and trusted them to change the world.
The next week there were 27 attendees, which is more typical. The church supports a Christian school for 70 kids in Thailand. Some of the members are involved with Mission World Aid where 75 shipping containers of clothing and hospital equipment have been sent to overseas countries in need. Hmmm….. sounds like what Jesus would do.
Wait….. Oh yes. I asked the father/preacher how he taught responsibility to his six kids. Give them responsibility he quickly replied. Wow!
The third church: This one is in a suburb of Adelaide, city of parks, gardens, and churches. Not the traditional historical church…..just a plain low-roof unadorned meeting place. Wouldn’t know it was a church, except for the sign out front that says Hope Central. Probably a couple hundred attendees. Some rich, some poor. An eight-piece band including song-leaders. Great songs. Hands raised in praise to God.
The keyboard player is one of the pastors and looked like a body-builder. Lead guitarist of oriental background (lots of people from the orient have immigrated to Australia). My nephew’s wife Mel is the worship director, while my nephew Matthew works on the sound desk (yes I am proud of them).
Pastor Joe is from Canada originally. He spoke about all the voices we hear every day, all the distractions, and how to be open to the voice of God. He provided humor, inspiration, and practical application…..hard to beat this combination. Was this church relevant?
• First, lots of young folks high-school age and above were there, and the church must be relevant to pull them in.
• Second, the church is situated in one of the lowest socio-economic areas of the state, and they reach out to the poor and needy. The woman who led the communion is an attorney who moved from a nice home in an expensive suburb to be near the church so she could provide help to people beset by misfortune. Sounds like what Jesus would do……
• Third, a well-dressed woman addressed the church in regard to domestic violence, which is high in Australia. She asked people from the church to sign up or contribute to efforts to help snuff this out.
• Fourth, the church has a strong emphasis on overseas missions. In simple words, they care about and contribute to third-world countries where 6,000 children die every day from water-borne disease, and young girls are kidnapped into the sex trade. Sounds like Jesus again…..
Although Australia doesn’t have the religious heritage that the US does, and I have in fact been laughed at here for believing in God, there are pockets of active believers everywhere. Receiving encouragement and strength. Doing good. Helping someone to hope. Yes, Christian faith is still relevant. And my prayer is that more people here, especially young people, would be open-minded enough to explore all aspects of Christian faith, rather than see and hear only the negatives in the press and on the TV.
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever (Micah chapter 4).
‘I will strengthen them in the Lord and in his name they will live securely’ declares the Lord (Zechariah chapter 10).
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