birth and death

Last week I shared some time with my colleagues here who work for the Uniting Church in the Presbytery of Tasmania.

It was partly a retreat day, partly a planning day, and partly a day of building our sense of team.

It was a day in which all sorts of interesting possibilities came alive for us, as we thought, wondered and planned how to challenge, support and nurture the church here.

As we closed the day, Carol read to us, from Romans 8:18-25, and some commentary from Macrina Wiederkehr (Seasons of Your Heart) that contained a poem.  In the poem, Wiederkehr describes what must have been her own difficult birth – a birth story in which she apparently nearly didn’t make it, being momentarily pronounced dead.

I’m sure the scripture, the commentary and most of the poem were very interesting, but I confess I stopped listening. I was captured then and since by one line in the middle of the poem.

The doctor placed me aside and announced the sad news of my death, right in the middle of my birth.

Let’s just re-read that again.

The doctor placed me aside and announced the sad news of my death, right in the middle of my birth.

That’s got to be about as difficult as it gets. Right in the moment of new birth, new hope, new beginnings, is death.  Just as things where about to get interesting….it was all over.

I kind of wonder if that’s about where those of us who belong to the Christian church find ourselves right now.  And for the Uniting Church in Tassie it rings true.

There are well documented challenges facing the church. Buildings. Money. Age. Numbers. Ministers.  Well documented.

It would be easy to pronounce death. Many have (me included).

But increasingly, I get the feeling that we’re not actually in the middle of our death….but strangely, bizarrely, in the middle of our birth.

Not because we’re about to have some explosion of numbers and reclaim the glory days of the past, but because it seems to me that we’re on the edge of discovering anew what it really means to be communities of faith, what it really means to follow Jesus in this time and place.

Somehow, we find ourselves on the edge of a time of new hope.

All over Tasmania, wherever I go, I am encountering stories in the Uniting Church of people trying new things, re-thinking what it means to live together in faith community, worship together, engage in community, participate in God’s mission.

I hear the hope in a Friday night praise and worship gathering in the rural village of Wilmot. I hear it in a lounge-room gathering in Evandale. I hear it in a wild and powerful vision of residential community in Kingston. I hear it in the quiet contemplation of a new garden at Scots Memorial. I hear it in the burgeoning community meals at Wesley. I hear it in the dreams of a first-ever website for the congregations in Hobart’s north. I hear it in the endless stories of community service that are emerging from Uniting Care Tasmania. I hear it in the stories of a cape york visit by students from Scotch Oakburn.

I hear hope everywhere.

Not fanciful, unrealistic hope.

Not hope that ignores the realities of 2011.

But simple hope.  Hope that right in the middle of what we thought was our death, we might just find the possibility (and yes, pain) of birth.

That’s kind of exciting.