The Alice Springs Beanie Festival, Territory Day (complete with the legal selling of fireworks for one day only!), The Camel Cup, The Indigenous Festival of Football (Soccer), The Alice Springs Show and in early August, the 50th Annual Henley on Todd Regatta are just some of the unique events to take place in the much cooler weather we experience out here in Central Australia during this time.
The local paper only comes out twice a week, but during this time is full of pictures, events and statistics emphasising the value of these events to the local community. Words bandied around at this time include community, spirit, uniqueness, local and full to capacity.
It is often at these times and at these events I often think of Jesus and the modern institutional church. For starters, where would Jesus be if He walked among us now here in Alice Springs? Would He be sitting next to me in my chair at church, or sitting next to me cheering on my sons as they take part in the junior age group Camel Cup?
(No, my sons did not actually have to ride a camel, they rode a broomstick camel. My two eldest sons won their respective age groups, my three old was an honourable last in the Under 5 age group. I discovered it is not the easiest thing to explain to a three year old how to run, turn around and come back to the starting line. He just kept on running and running and running till someone caught him and turned him in the right direction... good preaching message for the future I think. )
Would Jesus take me along to the weekly prayer meeting or drag me along to laugh and try on the many unique beanies made by people locally and internationally at the Beanie Festival? (I still can't believe I paid $50 for a beanie named "Rustic Razzle" made by a lady in Greece. Yet, when it reached -3 degrees a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased I did.)
Australian author Michael Frost outlines in his book Exiles- Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, four criteria or requirements for 'elevating a bunch of believers into the wonderful project of churching together' (2006, p.146). These are fully explored in his book, but challenges me about taking my walk with Jesus beyond the four walls of a church building. These believers are:
1. Trinitarian in theology- at the core of Christian belief is the Trinity. 'God as Father invites us to be his apprentice-children; God as Son inspires us to participate in the extension of the kingdom around the world; God as Spirit directs us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and offers us every good gift in living it out (Frost 2006, p. 146).
2. Covenantal in expression- many church communities celebrate a communal life committed to 'Christ's presence, to share life with each other, and to embrace mission together.' It becomes more than a 'promise or pledge' but a covenant or union based on 'shared values and commitments' (Frost 2006, p.154).
3. Catholic (which means Universal) in orientation- be conscious of 'your place in the universal church, across both time and space. Churching involves a gracious recognition of the small part [a church community] plays in the millennia-long project of Christian mission (Frost 2006, p.154).
4. Missional in Intent- we 'church best with those with whom we share a common goal or mission' (Frost 2006, p.155).
I often think these small and large "community events" capture the essence of Frost's criteria much more closely than the church communities we find ourselves a part of.
We do what we do best at these events in Alice Springs: We laugh, we wonder, we fellowship, we listen, we observe, we interact with people from all walks of life and places, we eat, we talk and play with our children.
Perhaps before we introduce a new church program, a course, a song, a new church service time, an extra church service or project to our church, we should critically look at why many more people attend our community events than than they do at our churches on a Sunday.
We could well consider and reflect on the thoughts of G.K Chesterton:
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. (cited in Frost 2006, p.130)
Russell Modlin teaches Physical Education, Health and English at an indigenous boarding school in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.