Why did we spend 3 months in Hobart Tasmania this year? Answer: we were invited by a church on Hobart’s Eastern Shore to act as their pastor while their pastor for the past 10 years took 3 months off as long service leave (LSL).
Taking LSL is an Aussie delight that gives workers 5 – 7 days’ paid annual leave, taken every 10 – 15 years and after at least 5 years of continuous service. LSL is (or should be) a wonderful opportunity to do some in-service study, extended travel, or consultation, or to fulfil a dream like writing a book or extending one’s house. I have twice found my LSL to be refreshing, instructive, and horizon-widening.
Three months seemed a long time to be away from home: we have done a few previous church “locum” terms, but never longer than 7 weeks. We also found it hard to get much information from the inviting church. But many of our roots and memories are in Tasmania, we have 4 siblings around Hobart, and we love the island’s natural beauty, historical sites and autumn weather.
I my previous 12 posts I have shown and told many of the “stories” that resulted. In this last post of this series, I want to reflect on the Christian and church scene as we observed it.
- We were greatly heartened by the church which had invited us. We soon came to love this church: it had been through hard times during its history of over 50 years, talked openly about its troubles, but was determined to work for a better future. As a clear sign of this, they “road-tested” a young new pastor during the first months we were there and unanimously invited him to come and work with them on our last Sunday together. This strongly common mind surprised many, and this man has since accepted their “call”. God had been at work!
- This church is not large (about 130 of all ages) but its age spread is representative and the members are committed and good givers. Together they could shape a budget with a 3 year plan in mind. Another sign of God’s work.
We met a considerable number of people who were not members but had started attending in recent years. The church was running Sunday and weekday programs which were attracting local and new people into their number. Yet another sign of “the mind of Christ” there.
- Their pastor of the past 10+ years was not a full-timer, having been through a midlife “sea change” that involved university study and starting a counselling practice. This had taken him past the age and life situation of being able to relate easily to the church’s younger families and future leaders, so he and the other current leaders had been realistic and developed a succession plan: hence the outcome of appointing a new pastor. The plan includes that for the foreseeable future the two generations will work as a team, something I have done with great pleasure and fruit. Also something that seems good to God and to this church.
- While in Hobart I was often reminded of the new churches that have been “planted” in recent years and the close and harmonious work of Reformed and Presbyterian churches and leaders that have worked towards this happening. Many of Hobart’s 200,000 inhabitants now have an evangelical / Reformed / Presbyterian / Anglican church in their neighbourhood. I think this is wonderful, although sadly I believe it is also unique in Australia.
- On Pentecost Sunday (or Whitsunday) afternoon Helen and I joined some 2000+ other Christians at the Derwent Entertainment Centre for “Church Together”, an annual celebration organised by many of Hobart’s churches. It was clearly run by and for the city’s younger and most energetic Christians, and (sadly) most of the seniors and the Reformed and Presbyterian leaders chose not to be involved.
It was a welcome remedial for us: Meeting as a church twice every Sunday for 13 weeks with never more than 100, and seeing several church properties of our youthful memories now sold or demolished made us wonder about the shape of the Christian church in the city at large. “Church Together” made it clear that God is certainly not dead in Tasmania.
- We also heard of and met several churches that seemed to be in terminal decline. I believe that God is ultimately in control of world history and my history, but that we humans have been given a lot of power and responsibility – which can be used for good or ill. As with individuals, churches can sometimes die in circumstances beyond their control, but usually the story of a church is a reflection of its good choices or failure to make them.
This is all the more reason we were so happy and comfortable spending 3 months loving and being encouraged by a church that seems to have turned a vital corner.