Mission Shaped Innovation
July 13, 2022
In 2019 Rev Christine Palmer responded to a call from Parramatta Nepean Presbytery to help develop an innovative Uniting Church presence in the growth areas of south-west Sydney.
She had completed the one-year Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) course only the year before, joining a growing cohort of people being equipped for ministry in ‘fresh expressions’ of church.
“It is always important to be open to what God is doing and where God is at work,” said Christine. “Doing the MSM course confirmed for me my passion for how the church can engage in ministry within and for the community.”
“It highlighted the importance of contextual ministry, getting to know and be part of your community in order to join in with what God is doing.”
Drawing on a Fresh Expressions model of ministry which puts relationships front and centre, Suburban Seeds was born and Christine became its Community Minister. With a vision to grow life-giving communities that connect people, faith and life, Suburban Seeds is about making connections at the grassroots.
“In some ways what we are doing is not innovative at all, it’s what Jesus did and people involved in mission have often done and are doing. That is to build relationships, observe what is going on, serve the community and share Jesus.”
“In my context that means being part of local communities online, getting involved in local projects and issues, building partnerships with other local organisations and lots of listening.”
Play in the Park is Suburban Seeds’ biggest connection with the community, an outdoor playgroup meeting the needs of young families longing for connection but with no place to gather. There are now two playgroups meeting outdoors with an average attendance of 40 each, and an online Play in the Park community connecting with over 650 families.
Suburban Seeds has also worked with both Uniting NSW.ACT and various community groups to provide practical help to families and opportunities for community connection. It facilitates the Kids Hope mentoring program in a local primary school, has a ministry of pastoral care and runs regular events including at Christmas and Easter. During COVID-19 it continued to build community online.
Christine speaks of the “small yet hopeful birth” of other opportunities, including ‘Faith in the Park’, a monthly gathering of families. There is also a weekly dinner and discussion group planned for later in the year where people will be able to gather, experience hospitality and explore faith. She invites Uniting Church members to pray for the growth of these two ministries.
The ministry of Suburban Seeds is bolstered by community buy-in and collaboration.
“We see God at work in the building and deepening of relationships. We see it in the way families have responded and become involved in Play in the Park, in the willingness of the local school and other local businesses and groups to work together for the good of building a healthy community.”
Mission Shaped Ministry Originally was born out of the UK’s Fresh Expressions movement almost 15 years ago and is now offered internationally.
Its emphasis is firmly on context – shaping mission and ministry around the character and needs of communities and seeking to join God in the places where God is already at mission.
Uniting Mission and Education in the Synod of NSW/ACT has run the Ministry Shaped Ministry course five times with participants from across New South Wales.
Mission Facilitation Consultant Rev Dr Cameron Eccleston says the value of the course is not only in more intentional missional practice but in developing a missional mindset.
“It is not only the Fresh Expressions that have been birthed that makes Mission Shaped Ministry important for the UCA, it is a significant tool in moving people’s thinking to become more oriented to mission.”
“Participants in our last cohort recognised for the first time that mission is not confined to a church building nor does it have to take place at 9:30am on a Sunday morning. This may not seem significant, but I hear stories all the time of congregations shutting down mission initiatives for these very reasons.”
Christine says that innovation is not so much about doing something new for the sake of it, but rather “comes out of our ongoing discipleship of faithfully looking and listening for where God is at work and what God is calling us to do.”
“It’s about finding ways of sharing the Gospel that connects with our neighbours. That’s going to look different in different places and it is going to require us to move out of our comfort zones.”
“I would love for the Church to give thanks for the relationships that have developed in our community, and to pray for others to join in the ministry here that have a passion for connecting with their neighbours.”