Church without Walls A one month intentional experiment in doing church outside our buildings For a period of one month during 2009, congregations of the Uniting Church Presbytery of Tasmania are invited to commit to living congregational life away from our church building and property. The worship, fellowship, children & youth activities, together with meetings of the congregation and other congregational activity should be planned during this month to take place in other spaces. Venue options for consideration include accessing community facilities (such as schools, community halls, sporting clubs, large homes), using open/outdoor space (such as parks, beaches, farms, mountains), a range of home/house-based activities, and ‘3rd places’ such as cafes, restaurants, and pubs. Creativity in considering life outside the building is encouraged! Walls? Why Church without Walls? The intent of the Church without Walls experience is threefold: - experience life as a congregation without a building; intentionally focussing on people, community and different modes of gathering - engage more actively in taking the life of the congregation into the broader community (and perhaps to recognise more actively the ways the Good News is already at work in your broader community) - reflect on what our buildings mean to us; the role they play in shaping, enabling, or restricting our congregational life, and the messages they send about our understanding of God There is no question that the Uniting Church faces many challenges in the rapidly changing society in which we find ourselves. Our relationship to property, and the efficient use of property in an equitable manner to resource mission is a significant issue for us. This is an experience aimed at shedding light on this very question in a tangible way – for congregations from rural, regional and city areas, and congregations that are small or large, traditional or contemporary. The concept for the Church without Walls experience emerged as a result of a desire to see us creatively engage with what it means to be church in the 21st century. Influencing factors include the Presbytery Getting Your Feet Wet theology of change, the live-in Presbytery meeting at Dysart in August, and significant input during the 2008 Synod of Victoria and Tasmania meetings around our maximising the efficient and effective use of property across the Synod. In no way is Church without Walls a final answer to any of those questions, but it does provide opportunity for us to take seriously the call to contextual mission and worship, and to bring a different perspective as we continue to consider the property issues facing us. Worship Congregations should plan for their worship life to continue throughout the period – using a range of means, places, and styles of meeting. Options might include whole congregation gatherings in public places or community facilities such as parks, café’s, community centres. Congregations might consider meeting as a network of smaller cells in people’s homes. Ministers, elders and other appropriate congregation members might resource these worship gatherings. One Month A month is sufficiently long enough to cause us to have to think about our whole range of activities. Most structured activities of a congregation will take place at least once over a month, while typical worship patterns mean that congregations will definitely need to find ways of celebrating significant moments such as the Eucharist in a creative manner as well. Cooperating This Church without Walls experience provides the opportunity for neighbouring congregations to work together in the planning and preparation phase, to share together in worship and life during the experience, and to debrief or reflect together on shared, and separate experiences. The experience also provides the opportunity for Uniting Church congregations to invite other local church congregations (of different denominations) to join them for part or all of the experience. Imagine a community in which every church congregation lived outside its buildings for a month! Before and After The Church without Walls experience may represent a significant challenge for many congregations, and is not to be taken lightly. Congregations should allow an extended period for talking, listening, preparing and planning for the experience. A subcommittee of church council, or a special task-group of interested people might be assembled to develop options and suggestions for the congregation’s life during the experience. Similarly, reflecting on the experience, and both the positives and negatives encountered during the period will be critical. Such reflection will generate the lessons able to be learned from undertaking such an experience. As a result of the experience, congregations may opt to make ongoing changes to the times, places, and styles of their various gatherings, and indeed to the structure and use of property. Support Congregations will be able to access a range of support and resources during the preparation, the experience itself, and during reflection/debrief periods. A series of written resources will be made available to provide input to both the planning and reflection processes. The Presbytery Minister (Misison Development) and Presbytery Minister (Leadership Development) will be available to support congregations both in planning for the experience, and in reflecting on the experience to maximise the learning opportunity. Synod Commission for Mission staff too will be available for advice and consultation. A specific Church without Walls project website can be established to facilitate idea sharing within and between congregations, and to be used for publicity before and during the experience. Frequently Asked Questions What about the community groups that use our buildings? Congregations should in no way compromise the ongoing use of buildings by community groups and tenants. This experience is intended to focus on congregational life, rather than on declining community and other organisations access to the facilities and venues they regularly use. As far as external users go, buildings should remain open. The experience may however provide the opportunity to deepen relationships with building users by exploring together the intent behind the congregation’s month away from its property. How might you invite your external building users to live through the experience with you? What about funerals? And weddings? There will of course be aspects of the congregation’s life that would be prohibitively difficult, or inappropriate to conduct elsewhere during this temporary experience. The congregation and its planning team should be sensitive to such needs, and apply collective wisdom to such decisions. Is this a trial? Are we being tested to see if we can survive without buildings so that they can be taken away from us? No. This is an experience, or an experiment. It is not a trial. The church without walls experience is intended to help clarify the relationship of the congregation to its community, and to its buildings. The experience may well shed light on the congregation’s use and attitude toward buildings, but in no way is it intended as pre- cursor or trial period to having buildings forcibly closed or sold. It might just be that we learn very clearly how important our buildings really are to us, and to our communities – and what we would lose by being without buildings. We have over 100 people attending worship on Sunday mornings. How could we possibly meet in a café or somebody’s lounge room? Differently sized and shaped congregations will face different creative challenges in reshaping congregational life. Some may find they choose not to meet as a large group – opting instead to meet as a network of small groups in different places. Alternately, community facilities such as school assembly halls or sporting clubs might be used. There are creative ways for congregations of every size to participate in this experience. Is this compulsory for every congregation in the Presbytery? No. This is not a compulsory experience. This is an invitation to make a bold decision, and for your congregation to engage in a risky experiment. You will not be ordered to participate, or frowned upon if you decline the invitation. You will however, be urged to seriously consider whether your congregation will accept this invitation, and not to answer ‘no’ too quickly. It’s alright for churches that are creative, have lots of money, or with lots of young people. We aren’t creative. We have no resources, and no minister. We wouldn’t know where to start… There are creative ideas lurking within each of us. The Presbytery will support all congregations who wish to participate by facilitating discussions, providing resources and ideas, and assisting the congregations to prepare for their Church Without Walls experience. You will not be alone before, during or after the experience. How do we communicate this? And what will the people in our town think when our buildings are locked up for a month? We would encourage you to be creative, even playful. A sign at the front of your church building would be easy to arrange. The local newspaper or radio station would almost certainly be interested in this initiative. Consider producing low cost postcards to distribute in people’s letter boxes letting them know of your activities for the month. Perhaps a special Church without Walls website could be developed jointly between congregations and advertised across the state. Telling your neighbours about this experience will be a great way of breaking open conversations about what church and spirituality mean to those who are not regular church-goers. We could not do this during winter. It would be too cold to meet outside our building. We will negotiate the most suitable month for each of the congregations wanting to accept this invitation. Perhaps it might best be either Autumn (perhaps best to avoid Easter) or Spring – meaning that weather will not be a barrier to creativity. That said, there are lots of places we can meet that are warmer than many of our church buildings! All the congregations accepting this invitation need not necessarily conduct their church without walls experience simultaneously – through opting for a common date with neighbouring congregations might open up creative possibilities for sharing resources and ideas. Can we just hire the local community hall for a month and meet there? Of course you could take a simple approach like that. And there would be valuable lessons to be learned from the experience. We want to encourage you to think more creatively however, and to try and meet in different ways, and in different places during the experience. Mix things up a little, and shape your Sunday worship services differently each week. For sure, use facilities in your community that are available, and suitable, but be creative too. Stretch yourselves into a degree of unfamiliarity and uncomfortableness… Has this happened anywhere else? To our knowledge, such an experience has not occurred elsewhere in Australia. There will be lots of interested people watching on to see what is learned in the Church without Walls experience within Tasmania. Who can we speak to further about this? Where can we get help with thinking this invitation through? In the first instance speak with Scott Guyatt, Presbytery Minister (Mission Development). Scott can be contacted on 03 6331 9784 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Scott will help you find the best person to support your journey.
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