The River is a “fresh expression” of church, built on the conviction that the transforming presence and power of Jesus Christ will be encountered in Warrandyte as the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, and God’s Creation in the context of an authentic community.
The initial expression of The River has been a monthly gathering/service on a Sunday afternoon, at 3pm, and has been shaped by our core conviction in three areas:
1. authentic engagement with the Bible, through interactive teaching, discussion, creative activities, music and prayer,
2. enjoyment of and prayerful meditation upon the natural environment as a spur to faith in a good and beautiful Creator (walks to the Yarra, picnics in the garden, treasure hunts)
3. the building of a welcoming community where relationships become more loving, honest and practical as we move from our various starting points toward Christ at the centre, particularly through the experience of the “shared meal” including the Lord’s Supper.
We reckon that the culture in Warrandyte (and those who feel an affinity with the area but live elsewhere) values creativity, beauty, environmentalism and artistic expression in literature, visual art and drama. We think that having an emphasis on creation and the acknowledgement of and utilisation of the natural environment in worship and community building at The River has resonated with local people attending.
As in many places with a slightly “alternative” culture in Melbourne, healthy, locally-sourced, allergy-friendly and alternative food is valued highly in Warrandyte. We love this stuff too, and think taking this stuff into account in this area deepens hospitality when we share a meal.
Honesty and authenticity in spiritual matters in an area with high numbers of dechurched or unchurched people is also important. In the 3113 postcode area (Warrandyte, North Warrandyte, Warrandyte South), 35.7% of people responded “no religion” in the last census – more than 10% higher than the Victorian state average, and 13.4% higher than the national average. Furthermore, whereas at the state and national level, combined Christian responses (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) number more than 24% higher than those responding no religion at the state and national level, there is only a 7.4% difference in Warrandyte. On these very basic figures alone, it is clear to see that Warrandyte is an area where traditional church has not been part of the agenda for many households for some time. We want to provide one arena (among many we hope) where the life-giving spiritual message of Jesus can be considered afresh.
So far attendance has ranged from 12-33 people (adults and children) per month, of ages ranging from 6 weeks to 70 years. People who are not really into church at the moment from the local area have started checking things out too.
Three further expressions were also trialled in 2012: a “River session” in April where a touring Christian band performed, winter soup and Bible study on the first Sunday of the month in June-August, and a young adults and families dinner party at the end of August. The “dinner-party style” gathering, with more than 20 adults and children attending, confirmed the importance of the shared meal as an essential aspect of discipleship. Planning for 2013 aims to build upon this strength!
Although these things sound a bit professional and well-thought through, when you come along you’ll see that we’re still learning, growing and mucking around together. We’d love to have you as part of the shaping of this community for 2013!