In Goondiwindi, we focus more on the amazing things God is doing in people’s lives. Since coming to Goondiwindi in December I have been profoundly moved by what God is doing in people’s lives.
During my first week in the parish, a couple and their young child walked into the church. We leave the church open on Tuesdays to Fridays during the day so people can come and pray. The couple came to enquire about their daughter, Anne, being baptised. During the conversation, Tien, Anne’s mother, said she is not baptised, commenting that she had been learning a lot about Christianity from reading and talking to others. Tien requested preparation for baptism. Tien and I, together with her husband, Ross, have been conversing weekly since then.
Tien was raised in a different faith in another country. She married Ross three years ago. Her experiences growing up in another country and the different culture and values she encounters in Australia make for wonderful Gospel conversations. Tien amazes me with the depth of her scriptural reflections.
A month ago, I invited her to reflect on John 1. The following week when I asked her if she had any questions, she said, “Well, I read John. Then I read Genesis 1-5. When Cain killed Able, God did not kill Cain. I have been thinking about God as a punishing God and God as a loving God.” I sat back in my chair on the verge of tears. She continued, “To me, I can see God was compassionate to Cain, trying to stop any more violence. Jesus did the same.”
We then engaged in a deep discussion about Christ’s redeeming work and God’s profound and life-changing love. Journeying with Tien, Ross and Anne has been a humbling and inspiring experience.
Tien, Ross and Anne are now regular members of our congregation. Tien will be baptised and confirmed at the Easter vigil by Bishop Bill Ray. Tien and Ross are also expecting their second child, who is due soon after Easter.
There are several factors making it possible for me to serve in my new parish – a deeply committed group of parishioners; an engaged lay leadership, including Wardens and Liturgical Assistants; a laity connected to the wider community in leadership and volunteering; and, the Bush Ministry Fund that contributes to my clergy stipend.
The lay leaders worked tirelessly to keep the parish going during the clergy vacancy, with several deeply committed people giving sacrificially of their time. For example, the Liturgical Assistants covered all the services, conducted 18 funerals and provided pastoral care throughout the district.
Other than God’s call to serve in Goondiwindi, one other thing especially attracted me to this parish – the parishioners’ dedication to wider community life. Everyone counts in rural communities. People engage, make things happen, and see needs and action them. Community involvement is central to the local culture and often critical to its survival.
When I arrived in Goondiwindi, I was struck by the many and complex ways parishioners are deeply connected with leadership in the wider community. As part of the parish’s website redevelopment project, I compiled a list of parishioner community engagement and was staggered by the breadth and depth of involvement. For a relatively small group of people, their representation on service organisations, local boards, community projects and key community activities is incredibly high – inspiring, really.
One such person (whom I will use a pseudonym for) is “Mr Jones”. In his late 90s, Mr Jones is a long-standing parishioner of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Goondiwindi. When I mention his name to people around town, they speak in hushed reverential tones recalling some story of their involvement with him or his positive local influence. He is often described as “such a wonderful man!”
Mr Jones is the sole surviving World War II veteran in the area – a status that weighs heavily on him. All of his mates have died. He has been involved in leadership within the parish, several service organisations and local industry. His life is often described as one of “selfless service”. As he is now incapable of serving at the intense level for which he is admired and loved, the community is reflecting back to him their admiration and love in caring for him.
Mr Jones is just one example of many others in the parish who demonstrate the pattern of “service above self” that inspires my daily ministry in my new community.
The dynamic relationship of faith and service is essential for all Christians engaged in mission, yet in the bush it is a critical way of life. James’ epistle captures the ethic I observe within the parish and the wider community: “Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (2.18b, NRSV). In the case of rural communities, this scripture takes on a greater meaning than simply “faith without works is dead” because the community’s very function and survival depend on it.
Goondiwindi, like many other regional and rural parishes, survives because of the determination of active and engaged people. While the Church has changed considerably over the last few decades, in some ways it is much stronger. In other ways, it faces considerable challenges. Our rural parishes, in particular, need support to assist with the great challenges they face in bringing and meeting Christ in the bush. We also need to pray for more people to hear God’s call to serve in this rich and rewarding space.
The Bush Ministry Fund (BMF) has provided this parish with an increased opportunity to expand our capacity to minister to people like Tien, Ross and Anne and to honour and care for Mr Jones after his life of service. I am very grateful to those who give to the BMF, as it makes focused, well-resourced ministry possible. We also need to pray for more people to hear God’s call to serve in this rich and rewarding space.
Editor’s note: The Bush Ministry Fund solely funds rural ministry in our Diocese, and it is the only fund that financially supports rural ministry in our Diocese. The Bush Ministry Fund money boxes are a fun and easy way for individuals, families, parishes and schools to donate to bush ministry in our Diocese. Order your BMF money box today by emailing Helen Briffa in the Western Region office via firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 07 4639 1875.