This is my Uniting Church
St Andrews Uniting Church, Glenbrook
June 21, 2023
This week we catch up with Rev Ellie Elia, minister at St Andrews Uniting Church in Glenbrook in the Lower Blue Mountains of NSW.
We have learnt that Christian community is a precious gift worth sharing, and that at this time of great uncertainty, God calls us to be generous and courageous
Can you tell us a little bit about your church community?
At the bottom of the blue mountains, Durug Ngurra (Country) you will find a small weatherboard church across the road from Glenbrook Park. "We are the church with the rainbow bell tower out the front" I will say when asked which church we are.
Glenbrook Uniting Church is known in the local community and throughout the Blue Mountains as an inclusive church. Some travel a long way to be part of the wonderfully curious community. We also value and enjoy being an intergenerational church, although we are still learning what this means. In our worship children and young people are encouraged not only to participate but also to co-preside. Learning from and sharing faith across generations reflects our sense of God’s abundant hospitality as we learn to make space for one another.
Like many churches we are rediscovering who we are after the storm of Covid. We have learnt that Christian community is a precious gift worth sharing, and that at this time of great uncertainty, God calls us to be generous and courageous.
What are some of the things happening there that are really exciting for people?
It's been a long time coming, but we are finally able to employ a Youth and Young Adults Pastor, thanks to a Synod Mission Growth Grant. There are equal parts excitement and challenge as we move forward with our vision to grow a vibrant youth and young adults community to nurture youth-led mission and leadership for “a contemporary, courageous and growing church”.
Alongside this new role is the establishment of Banksia House, a residential share-house for four young adults, forming an intentional Christian community in Glenbrook and hub for wider community engagement. Many people are working hard to get both these new initiatives off and running.
It feels like it's been a long labour and now we are waiting for the first wonderfully terrifying contractions which tell us - this is really happening - new life is coming. And just like a newborn, we can’t know for certain what this life will be like or how it will change us or challenge us or what this life will become, but we will love it with everything we have.
What energises the faith of this community?
There are so many different ways I could answer this question.
For some who have been part of this congregation for a very long time, some more than 70 years, it’s the love and care shown that continually re-energises their faith. To keep turning up for each other through all the ups and downs, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, day after day after day. This is no small thing, in fact it’s everything that our faith inspires in us.
For others, I’ve observed that they could take or leave the prayers, even the sermon, because for them faith is nourished by the music - old and new. Music becomes the prayer or sermon that energises faith.
Others still, find their faith deepened and enriched in the service of others. Many people at St Andrews volunteer hours to local groups in our community: feeding services, mentoring, refugee support groups, environmental advocacy and action, support for a whole range of community services and international development. For these people faith makes sense as an expression of day to day life.
Then we have the "pray-ers", those who like glue seem to quietly hold all that is seen and unseen before God. In recent years I have become more aware and appreciative of those individuals who may not confess their faith in the same way that I do, but whose generous presence and care of the church community helps us all to wrestle with questions of faith and the practice of faith. These relationships energise the whole congregation.
In the same way I am so grateful for the “doers”, those people whose faith leads them to become problem solvers and fixers of things. I can see their faith being energised even in incredible complex and challenging situations. Thank you Jesus for the doers!
Where do you see God at work at the moment?
I see God working in our uncertainty and discomfort. I can see God meeting us in our fear and anxiety. I can see God exposing our weariness and reluctance to be vulnerable, calling us to put our faith in a compassionate God who promises to be with us and to make something beautiful from the messiness of who we are.
So it is the moments when I let go, and we let go, when we pause to breathe together at the beginning of worship, or to pray in the middle of a church council meeting or with a friend at a cafe.
It’s in the moments we let the tears of our hurts and struggles be seen, in each other others' eyes, or when we say “Sorry”. Sorry for the ways we mess up, sorry for the ways we avoid the difficult real stuff, sorry for our passive participation in systems of oppression and injustice, sorry for our relentless destructive ways, sorry for our disbelief that we can or will change the way we live. In these moments I see God at work.
And it's also in the moments when I am privileged to break off an extra large piece of communion bread for every little face shining in awe and wonder as the Body of Christ, or my teenager saying “Great sermon Mum”, or the elderly couple who always hold hands in church, or sharing dinner and whisky with my friends Father Joe and Pastor Adrian, and joyously laughing as we imagined forming the Catholic Uniting Baptist Church in Glenbrook (watch this space!)
God very often seems to be moving in the cracks and at the edges and whenever and wherever we have eyes to see. Which isn’t as often as I would like.
Are there any challenges you're facing there?
Yes we face huge challenges, which in a sense I am grateful for because they keep us honest and focus our priorities on how we will share our resources, gifts, finances, energies and time to give fuller expression to our faith. In a sense the challenge is a question of hope. Do we have hope that we can live out our faith today in such a way that this faith will be pass on, fostered, encountered by future generations?
What can the rest of the Church pray for there?
Please pray for wisdom and grace for us to navigate this transitional season. Please pray that we will be open to the Spirit's guidance, even if that means changing direction, or starting again. Please pray that we will know our worth and live out of our belovedness.