A pause in our Odyssey round Oz to reflect a little on what’s been happening. We’ve been in this vast and amazing country a week now – unbelievable as it’s shot past so quickly. The Melbourne leg of our trip finished yesterday and we’re in a sort of no-man’s land between Melbourne and Adelaide, having driven along the Great Ocean Road as far as Mt Gambier, where we have just settled into a very fine b&b complete with Guard Lambs, a King Charles spaniel, a herd of cows and assorted ducks and chickens. And a guinea pig but I haven’t yet made its acquaintance. And we’ve crossed a timezone somewhere and lost another half hour of our lives… how can this be?
Impressions of the drive: bare boned eucalyptus trees like Ezekiel’s valley in whole forests stretching over hillside after hillside… distances and space – how does anyone from Australia stand the UK with its overpopulation? Occasional surreal snapshots of the familiar in the wrong place, like stands of daffodils or clumps of huge Easter lilies growing wild, stark white against the bush greens. Living geography: the sea carving sculptures into the shoreline before our eyes. And no wildlife! How can this be? There are Warning-Kangaroos and Warning-Koalas signs everywhere… even phone numbers to ring if you happen to injure one, but do these apparently abounding herds of beasts show themselves to me? No. The nearest we’ve seen has been a roadkill echidna (at least it might have been an echidna) and ditto a sloth. Well, maybe a sloth. A thing like a fat otter. Very dead anyway. We didn’t ring the number.
But what of Messy Church? As you can imagine, five days of conferences and meetings gives plenty of food for thought. It feels – and I am a stranger and a sojourner here, and may be completely wrong – that many churches feel the same urgency as we do in the UK to do something relatively revolutionary before many many church congregations die off in twenty years time. There’s an acceptance that what we do on a Sunday is not drawing in people from outside, wonderful though it may be for those already in the church, and a humility that says we’re prepared to give something like Messy Church a go. A programme here called Mainly Music is very popular and is drawing young families for family singing into churches – and there’s a sense of Messy Church being a possible logical next step for those families on their Christian journey.
I have met some inspirational people, some of whom have had the courage and vision to just get going with messiness. Tim and his two team members who run their Messy Church once a week. Greg and his team who came over from Western Australia for the conference to find out more, having already started a successful Messy Church. Jeanette running a thriving one in the suburbs of Melbourne. Tracey from the Salvation Army with a light in her eyes at the potential of Messy Church for the corps and churches she oversees. Alistair Macrae, the warm, humble and inspirational president of the Uniting Church Synod with his commitment to families and to outreach. Archbishop Philip Freier of eth Anglican Church showing great interest. Catherine who dragged her minister along to a UCA meeting on Messy Church so that she could take it further sooner. And of course the inspirational Chris Barnett, who manages to combine organisational efficiency with deep personal care for the people he serves and with vision for the state-wide and country-wide picture of how God is at work. So many wonderful people prepared to hear God’s call to something that is certainly going to involve them in a huge amount of work.
In many senses we’re not bringing anything new to this continent. God’s obviously already hard at work here: there’s bags of energy for work among families and many dynamic gifted people to do it, whose skills-base means that Messy Church is second nature to them. There’s a huge amount of permission from some of the denominations. Perhaps what we can bring is a focus to that energy and dynamism that will help give it a lasting shape and structure after we’ve gone. And from a purely selfish point of view, we’re having a wonderful helter-skelter of a time.