This is my Uniting Church
Living Faith Church, Greensborough
May 22, 2023
In this first and special edition for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we catch up with Rev Graeme Harrison, Minister at Living Faith Church in north-east Melbourne. In 2006, after a three year process, Greensborough Uniting Church combined with Greensborough Churches of Christ, then led by Revs Lynden and Rosemary Broadstock and Rev Adrian Clarke, to create a new community out of both traditions. 17 years later it remains an inspiring example of living, breathing, local Christian unity!
Image: Rev Graeme Harrison (far left) and now retired Churches of Christ Minister Rev Adrian Clarke (far right) celebrate a baptism and a confirmation side by side.
In 2006 Living Faith Church began with the motto, “We can do more together than we can apart”
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Tell us a little bit about the journey of the Uniting Church and Churches of Christ combining?
Before the two congregations met one another there was already a culture of mission and seeking to live the way of Christ in both communities. This love of Christ and his mission was what made the impossible desirable.
So when the Greensborough Church of Christ realised their aging suite of buildings was a liability that sucked the life out of their mission, they wondered who they could join if they sold up. After many knock backs from neighbouring Churches of Christ, Greensborough Uniting offered to host them. The Uniting Church was healthy and not looking to merge itself.
After several conversations they both realised that a landlord/tenant relationship was not how God’s family should treat each other. So they explored co-operation with a single worshipping congregation, one Church Council, and one set of finances. Co-operation was the most they could do because neither wanted to start a new denomination. Instead, cooperation means you get the best (and worst) of both.
In 2006 Living Faith Church (LFC) began with the motto, “We can do more together than we can apart.” A statement that serving Christ in mission was where our heart was. In 2023, it is still there but we no longer see ourselves as two churches even though governance maintains the distinction. And all those people who have joined us since don’t see two churches either.
How has this expression of unity enriched or had an impact on the mission and ministry of the congregation? What do you think have been the keys to making this work, and last?
The first thing we noticed was having so many gifted people together made more things possible. A day of dreaming and planning for innovative mission resulted in a monthly meal, The Tucker Club, ministering to those in the community who needed a good meal and friendship. A youth Bible Study became viable and a real blessing to many. Support groups started up for fatigued carers in our church and beyond. Alpha resulted in a number of people coming to faith in Christ. And the worship went up a level as many talented people got involved. The lay pastoral care team had an infusion of people and began a number of great initiatives.
But we were also enriched because each faith tradition looks at church differently and challenges assumptions about how church must work. (How I love having communion every week now!)
The key to making it work is that each church already knew its highest priority, love of Christ and his mission to the world. Therefore, they could tell the difference between issues and differences that were important and those that were not. For example, a diversity of approaches to baptism is OK as long as we have a unified focus on the centrality of following Christ in our daily lives.
That’s what attracted me to join this church in 2009 to work in a team alongside a Church of Christ Pastor.
From your perspective, what does it mean to be ecumenical in our time and place?
I think Twentieth Century ‘ecumenism’ is dead. The desire to get all the different denominations together in symbolic shows of unity gets nothing but polite interest (at best). Even the Uniting Church which was birthed in the desire for ongoing unity, has lost its passion as a movement and now often behaves merely like another denomination with niche interests.
However… I see a real appetite in some for doing mission together at local levels with whoever is interested. Synergy in mission is now what occupies that space. Five churches in our region put on a combined Alpha with people invited to the night of their choice regardless of which denomination was hosting it. Seven churches in our region financed a form of chaplaincy in the local shopping plaza (and with their blessing and assistance) to engage with the large numbers of socially isolated people who spent hours there each day.
The focus of this alternative ‘ecumenism’ is not on the churches but on the community and getting the job done in the best way possible.
For other communities who may like to explore partnering more intentionally with the churches around them, what small word of advice or encouragement would you give?
Mission. Find mission partners with similar approaches to increase the effectiveness of mission. It doesn’t have to be all the local denominations, that is just a pipedream.
Merging together as one like we have is rare and requires a few things to be in place before you start. Even merging Uniting Churches who have few hurdles to jump compared to us will have trouble if mission is not their heart, their culture and their highest priority. But even with all our advantages and enthusiasm, it took three years for those combining congregations to work it out. That takes real passion.
How can the rest of the Uniting Church pray for Living Faith?
Like most churches, we have emerged from 3 years of COVID lockdowns and anxiety drained and diminished. Several ministries have concluded and a few have been refreshed. We find ourselves having to reorient and revise for the future. Furthermore, my own time at LFC will be coming to an end within the next year, and afterwards LFC will face the challenge of finding someone who can generously work across denominations and also work in a team.
But for now, we are engaging more deeply in issues of Reconciliation in this year of the referendum (2 Cor 1:19 is the verse of 2023). And finally, we are hosting an Alpha course in third term; people discovering God’s love is a massive joy! We value your prayers, we can’t do mission effectively without them!