Fuelled by Crispy Cremes, banana bread, brownies and 7-11 Coffees from Pheasants Nest, Paul, Tom, Andrew and Lucy descended (or perhaps ascended) on the picturesque Sutton Forest Parish to begin our week. We were greeted in the Exeter “CBD” (a post-office-general-store-cafe and a croquet club) by a cavalcade of retirees driving vintage Porsches as grey nomads in lycra sipped fluffy cappuccinos.
Tom and Paul headed to a tiny church in Tallong (which Paul still can’t pronounce properly) with no running water or electricity. The turnout was double its usual size – over 21 people came and heard Tom speak about Jesus as the Supreme Leader, including a couple on their way from Brisbane to Alice Springs. Apparently, Tallong is a “must see” destination if you’re on your way to Alice Springs…
Andrew and Lucy met the lovely parishioners in the beautiful old stone church at St Aiden’s Exeter. Standouts were “Grandma Helen” from New York who loves giving hugs and Bill, a retiree who’s thrown himself into the “Jesus is” mission, inviting everyone he can to the events and asking his neighbours who they think “Jesus is”. Lucy was on “stand-by” to run Sunday School, but unfortunately no kids came. Pray for this church as they struggle to work out how to welcome families without a critical mass of children.
We visited some local markets in Bundanoon and Andrew met a bloke who greeted him by asking “Are you a local?” When asked who he thought “Jesus is”, he said he’d gone down that path before and Jesus was basically a crutch, people should grow up and stop behaving like children. Pray for Bill that God would be merciful, soften his heart and he would stop relying on himself.
There’s a big social divide here between the “Locals” and the “Blow-ins”. You aren’t really a local unless you went to school here. Even Jeremy, the Rector of the Parish, who’s been here for 10 years will never be a real local. Us Sydney folk are known as the “Flat-Landers.” Pray that the churches here would find ways of gaining favour with locals and welcoming newcomers to the area.
Andrew was considering “preaching from the piano” (Southern Baptist Style) at the Bundanoon 5pm service, but instead went for the conventional method. His clear and challenging word from Mark 8 about the cost of following Jesus was helpful for everyone there, and especially thought provoking for a number of nominal attendees and one Hindu man who came along with his Christian wife (he’s hoping to bring his parents along next week!).
After church was youth group, where Andrew Shead somehow showed up in our drawing game, along with a strange bat-devil type creature. We each shared who “Jesus is” for us and how that led us into full-time ministry. It was so encouraging to see a young couple (Kevin and Bronwyn) with their 4 young (pre-youth) kids there helping out with leading the youth. Kev almost didn’t make it as bushfires were threatening the local area, putting him on high alert as a local volunteer firefighter. And Lucy got to hold their baby, which she was clearly stoked about. Pray this youth group would keep growing upwards and outwards, especially as Matt the Assistant Pastor who runs the youth ministry moves to Queensland in a couple of weeks.
Pray for the Sutton Forest area. People here have life pretty good. But despite the beautiful tree-lined streets, carefully manicured gardens, and sandstone buildings there is a deep brokenness all around – divorce, depression, cancer, alcohol, loneliness, purposelessness and pain. These are just symptoms of the greatest problem – life apart from a good God. Pray that people would see the peace and promise that Jesus offers and come to saving faith in him.