Grey nomads, rural churches

Once iconically Aussie, country Australia now faces population decline, product devaluation, service withdrawal and loss of cultural status as Southern Cross so clearly showed in its February cover feature.

In a now-multicultural Australia, country culture has been relegated to just one of many others. Nevertheless, the once widely shared Australian rural ideology often referred to as “country mindedness”– that is, being positively minded towards the country and the bush – is still held by many regional communities. According to country mindedness, this positive attitude should manifest itself in all Australians supporting country communities.

The rapidly increasing number of retiring Baby Boomers releases professional expertise, money, time, ministry skills, labour and personal energy into the Australian community (see Southern Cross, April). Some of those resources, readily available in the Sydney Diocese, can be used to support the Australian bush church through “grey nomads”.

The Bush Church Aid “Nomads” scheme maintains a spreadsheet of locations by work needing to be done. Thus grey nomads can choose where they want to go, and/or what they want to do. They can offer their skills and fellowship to bush congregations and church staff for a long or a short time. In return, the grey nomad receives the satisfaction of supporting the work of the gospel and the opportunity to visit and work in country Australia.

Our recent experience of maintaining church property in the small rural community of Adelong is but one example. Adelong is a small and pretty former gold-mining town with a small and ageing but active Anglican congregation. The attractive stone church building is augmented by a weatherboard hall.

During April six members from St Matthew’s, West Pennant Hills spent nine days living and working onsite. Norm and Arthur slept in the hall, Brian and Chris slept in a caravan kindly provided by a member of the congregation, and Judy and I slept in our hired motor home. We cooked in the hall kitchen and showered every couple of days in a flat that the congregation rents for the part-time visiting minister to live in while he is in town.

The church provided all the materials and specified the work that was to be done. We provided the requisite tools and labour for free.

Our work included sorting out what they wanted to keep from what they wanted to throw out, building storage shelves in the hall storeroom, preparing and painting the interior of the hall and storeroom, preparing and painting the inside and outside of the toilet block, clearing out rubbish, pruning overhanging plants, chopping back woody weeds and taking rubbish to the tip. Simple enough.

We participated actively in the first and second Sunday church services – a novel and exciting experience for us, and making us more thankful for our larger Sydney church.

While we were only working in a material sense, God was adding value to our efforts. We were loving our neighbours as ourselves (Luke 10:27). We were sharing what resources we had (Luke 3:11; Acts 4:32).

We were encouraging the people in the church (Romans 12:8). We shared fellowship (Galatians 2:9). We were serving the Adelong congregation (Galatians 5:13). We were supporting a poorer church (Acts 11:29). We were no burden on them (2 Cor 11:9).

It would be easy to over-spiritualise the relationship between the nomad and the local congregation. I kept thinking of The Lord of the Rings when Samwise says to Frodo on the slopes of Mount Doom: “I can’t carry it [the Ring] for you, but I can carry you and it as well”. We were but blow-ins. The local congregation is the body of Christ in Adelong. We could only help support them in a relatively minor way – a sobering humility.

We were a group of city Christians supporting a country congregation and were being country-minded towards them.

Unconsciously we were conforming to Australian country cultural ideology so were being culturally sensitive towards that bush church. The congregation were more than appreciative of the work being undertaken.

Indeed, the local congregation found our fellowship, prayer, inclusion in their worship and sharing our common faith encouraging and inspiring as they sought, and continue to seek, to see their church grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus.

Photo: Brian Peacock puts the finishing trim on the Adelong church hall