Belinda Groves – 30 July 2017

Dear Friends

A few Wednesdays ago, I had another invitation to be ‘Belinda the Baptist bishop’ and join the heads of churches in Canberra for lunch at the Catholic Archbishop’s residence at Regatta Point. As we sat down to eat, the Archbishop handed out sheets detailing the declining numbers of people affiliated with each denomination. “I hope this doesn’t put you off your lunch,” he said!

It is sobering to look at the decline in church affiliation in Australia. Over the last fortnight several of our small groups have looked at an article by next week’s preacher, Rev Scott Higgins, in which he says, “It is impossible to speak of the ‘average Australian’ when it comes to religion. We live in an Australia in which there seem to be at least three distinct groups: those for whom religion is an important part of their daily living; those who have a sense of connection to religion and are open to religious/spiritual experience, but for whom it remains somewhat removed from daily living; and those for whom religion has no part at all in their lives.”

For those for whom religion is an important part of daily living it is disorienting to think that we are no longer at the centre of Australian life. For some this has led to heightened anxiety over being criticised in the media. (I am thinking of the recent responses from some Christian commentators that Julia Baird’s report on how intimate partner violence can be concealed and enabled by Christian communities unfairly targeted the church (mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028).  It has also focused the concerns of other Christian on opposing the growing acceptance of other forms of sexuality in our society.

And yet – going back to lunch with the Archbishop – what is it that actually feeds and sustains us as a Christian community? Is it that we hold the dominant cultural and political position within our society? Or is it that we want to take living as Christians seriously? That we find life and meaning in the spiritual disciplines that we explored at the beginning of the year and that Anne and Richard will touch on again today; discernment, hospitality, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, theological reflection and beauty?

I think it’s the latter, and I share Scott’s view that we might see the decline of religion as an opportunity – not as a threat. That, to paraphrase Scott, in leaving behind Christendom we might live more faithfully the reality that God reigns in our lives; loving our enemies, laying down our lives for each other, divesting ourselves of wealth, valuing inclusive community over the exclusivity of family boundaries, making peace with those who have offended or wronged us, abandoning revenge, value the interests of others before our own, seeking justice for the exploited and the op-pressed and sharing the good news of the reign of God.

Belinda

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