….and we’re back – with a challenge!

And we’re back folks, with apologies for the break in transmission. (I could tell you all the reasons life has been busy but this isn’t a personal blog and you can find out all that and what I had for breakfast by friending me on facebook ;))

Well, it’s officially been three months since the last post – I know that because it is now February and then it was November…We have had three River gatherings so far and each one has been unique – unique in style and in company. We’ve had a picnic in the rain under the shelter of the Stiggants Reserve stage, we’ve had beautiful sunshine and picnics with little ones running amok up and down the church ramps. We’ve had carols outdoors and a traditional Anglican baptism. We’ve had coconut pie and strong coffee (there are parents there, after all). And each time there have been new faces as well as familiar ones – and I haven’t even gotten to speak to every “gatherer” yet, which is kinda great, actually!

We haven’t gotten everything right, I know that. We haven’t been able to be everything to everybody – and some haven’t found what they’ve been looking for, and haven’t been back…. at least, not yet, right? 🙂 Trying to work out how to bless kids of primary school age and high school age and toddlers and those who aren’t parents and those who are is hard and I wish it were easier every time.

But my biggest fear is always – will people come? Not because I desire to be validated (well maybe – hang on, this isn’t supposed to be a personal blog – and going down this path is kinda making me want to vomit) but because church is about people! Not about large groups, certainly, and not about increasing numbers (although we have had that, praise God), but about enough people for there to be a sense of community, a sense of welcome, a sense of ease in being able to share or to keep back as much as you need or want to, and to grow in that. Exactly how many people that takes is simply up to God, and will be different each time.

Yes, one of the main points of true church “services” – if not the main point in this age of podcast sermons, well-stocked Christian bookstores and Bible reading apps – is to gather in the presence of God as community. The Greek word translated church in the New Testament is generally ekklesia – which means gathering or “called out assembly”. There has to be people gathered together to make church – people whom God will work through to meet our needs as well as people we can encourage in faith and people we can walk alongside in doing the work of navigating this weird world whilst remaining anchored to Christ in a life-giving, reality-embracing and somehow-tangible way. And there’s got to be people for fun and laughs and noise (kids calling out “cake” in the middle of the sermon, for example) and ridiculousness – which is all part of it too!

The real problem is, we meet on the second Sunday of the month – which presents more hurdles in the first half of the year (I would love to say I realised this when I said “just go to print with those dates”) than are inherent in simply starting a new thing. It falls on Labour Day weekend, Easter Sunday, Mothers’ Day, and, in all probability, the Queen’s Birthday weekend (yep, just checked). Given that the vision of this monthly service is to make it easier for people to be part of a regular community, this presents a challenge and a half!

So – what to do?

Well, we could change the date, but I like the fact the 2nd gets Easter Sunday – best day of the year, really, and absolute necessity for a Christ-seeking gathering, in my books! – and I’m already planning some stuff to bless the mums who come along after mothers’ day lunches or brunches or before mothers’ day dinners. I also think its important for our relying on God and our sense of stability in the wider community to just pick a date and go with it – we can’t anticipate who will be sitting around on the long weekend, for example, and really want to be in a place where they can dwell with God’s Spirit.

More excitingly, though, this date issue is stirring us to ADD more gatherings – which is sooner than we anticipated, but possibly this is God’s thing too! We are very keen to get more music into the place – maybe a few casual intimate gigs by bands that we know (or that you know?) on other Sunday afternoons (The River Sessions?) – and definitely a few BBQs and casual Bible studies with tea and coffee on the floor of the church (well, the tea and coffee will be in cups, and we will be on the floor…) These will need to be advertised ad hoc and will require some more commitment than we really wanted to ask of those who have been checking things out so far – but I actually think God has already prepared a few families and individuals for that!

Beyond programming and dates though, the consistent challenge for those who are dipping their toes in this River thing as it is in its infancy is really twofold –

1) when we gather together, to really be present and welcoming with those who come, even where we also need welcoming and being present with (ouch, not such a good use of the preposition there) and allow them to be as they need to be, no matter whether there’s only us and them there, or whether there are 50 others hanging around. Being community no matter the numbers.

2) to see whether we can creatively organise our time and our commitments to be intentional about “gathering” – for our own blessing and for others’. Maybe we can consider what we already love doing and who we love doing it with and how that and they can become part of spiritual community building with The River as a bit of a locus.

I’d love your thoughts and ideas – but I know it’s a pain to comment on this thing when you need to log in – so feel free to find “The River (St Stephen’s Warrandyte)” on facebook and comment there, if you like, so that others can engage too.

And come along this Sunday, 12th February, at 3pm – 5 Stiggant St Warrandyte – for a chance to meld the deep ancient Scripture with the beauty of the Warrandyte bush – as we interact with Psalm 19 and take a walk to the river…