FaithOpinion

Searching for the truth

One reality about being people of faith is that we can never claim to know the whole truth. Only God knows that. This makes it all the more important for us to have the courage and conviction to challenge each other and to enter into sometimes costly dialogue in order to search for what is true.

In recent times, the congregation at St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Redfern has made significant changes to the way it will live out what it believes to be its mission. Jan McIntyre, wife of the now Bishop of Gippsland, John McIntyre, who was the previous priest of St Saviour’s, has written the following open letter to the St Saviour’s congregation with copies to Archbishop Peter Jensen and Bishop Robert Forsyth.

I am writing to express my deep shock and concern at the eviction of the community groups from The Redfern Centre. The coming together of church and community groups under the roof of the church hall has been a remarkable example of the church working with and for the community, giving unconditional Christ-like love, acceptance and invitation into the fullness of life offered through Jesus.

The Centre has meant a caring presence of people was there in connection with the church, even when no-one was at the church or at home in the rectory (though we did try to have the church left open much of the day, with great appreciation by those who entered for many reasons). The good relationship between those working in the Centre and the congregation and leadership of the church meant communication and conversation happened in regard to church and community care.

The groups moving into the hall gave them a stable home at a reasonable cost and we were able to fix up the decaying hall for more specific church use. Now a lot more of the groups’ hard-won government funding will be spent just on accommodation, taking it away from the people using the services. The stability will probably be lost, too. Also, the groups learned much from simply working beside each other – the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The benefits of having a relationship with the locals also meant assistance to locals was more than just through the professional services provided by the groups.

Many other communities now seek for such opportunity to create places where people often on the edges of society can come into a safe place to share voluntary work, a chat, a cuppa, a healthy meal or to air personal and community concerns. This can help diffuse difficult situations and develop creative solutions.

The people can come without the weight of expectation or conditions. Some of those volunteers came to church, but that was never a condition put on them. One man with cerebral palsy, and his carer, began by helping with the Food Distribution Network, and then came to church weekly. They travelled some distance to do this. Usually though, the volunteers are very local and many don’t or can’t drive. They are not the wealthy or powerful, educated or advantaged, beautiful or articulate. They are the ones who know their need and their brokenness. They don’t need the church to be telling them they are sinners (haven’t we all fallen short anyway?). That only makes them feel worse and as if God doesn’t care or won’t come near. God welcomes and invites us while we are still far off!

So I am stunned (as are those I tell) that you told the people in the Redfern Centre, that you can’t work with them to run a soup kitchen because they “are not Christians”. For one thing, just because they maybe don’t attend church regularly (or not one of which you approve) or express a Christian faith in the words that you want to hear, does not mean they are far from God. Dare I venture to suggest that if you were to have real conversation with them, you may find the light on their hill is lit by God. Your making such a harsh, rejecting judgement (after an offer to work together) is not exactly doing as Jesus tells us to do. Or rather, it is judging when we are told not to do so.

A further example of this took place during a recent funeral for a tireless voluntary community worker. The mourners were told, as part of the words in the service, that it is not good enough to be a good person or to do good things and that if you’re not “saved” (by whose measure?) then you are going to hell! These cannot be words spoken by someone who has heard how Jesus responds to people. Well, yes, the Pharisees do get into trouble because they do “good” works but put conditions on people and burden them with their own, not God’s rules.

People cannot be frightened into the Kingdom. They are to come to Jesus, to God and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, because of the true freedom and love he offers, which they don’t find elsewhere. There is no freedom in fear. These words only push people away from being able to hear the Gospel and Jesus is not too happy with people when they won’t let the children go to him.

Jesus was tender, gentle and just, and he created an atmosphere of trust which drew honesty from people. He did not basically bully them into his Kingdom. Many years ago, a local from Redfern told me, “You can’t sell God. God is not a whore – you cannot whore God”. Did I say “not articulate” earlier? This is very clear and perceptive!

Many more than you know are shocked, saddened and horrified by your action and your justification for removing the community groups from The Redfern Centre.

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