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Treasure in Our Fields

Ruby Bay, Nelson

Consolation in challenging times

Before there was Covid we were entering or well into a challenging season in the church as our life together and forms of church are increasingly side-lined in a pluralistic culture where even the notion of truth is contested.  

Actually, the church has been on the margins rather than at the centre has been business as usual in many settings over the centuries.  And it tended to flourish.  Even the Son of Man had nowhere to rest his head.  Offering the light and salt of the Good News of Jesus Christ in our communities and region is our church tribe’s core business, and we know that only a little light and a pinch of salt goes a long way.  This ministry is not done here even if we are often weaker than we would like to be!


I’ve been thinking about the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate as told in John 18:38, where Pilate responds to Jesus with what might have been a question but is just as likely a statement, ‘What is truth’.   

While I think we should not be afraid to say what we believe to be true with love; and be true to who we are in Christ with love, I notice that Jesus was silent before Pilate’s question (or was it that Pilate didn’t stick around to let Jesus answer him?)  Silent.  In the end, Jesus’ actions did the talking.  

Everyone these days seems to want to say who they think they are what they are on about.  The church joins in the chorus.  It can be a wind-up and quite off-putting.  Are there other ways to be true to the people and communities we serve, who God also loves – that is, being with the people around us in loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled ways [Galatians 5:22-23]?

One of the great truths we are dealing with is that in many instances the church is not what it once was.  Many of our church communities are struggling, and more and more energy and resource is going into holding up what once was.  It’s tough out there.  It’s tough.  Is it ok to name this and sit in the uncomfortable silence?  Surely!

Exploration and posture

In our collective focus in Alpine Presbytery, we are trying to attend to supporting our congregations, made up of precious, generous, and faithful people, while also stretching out with some of our meagre resources to try new things.  We are exploring whether there might be ways of being in our communities that could enable us to be more flexible, open, and connected, as we attend to the uncomfortable truth that something we have known and loved is passing.  

A key posture in this exploration is learning ways to be less insistent on when and how the community should or might connect with us.  I don’t think that this is something we should only be trying in some edgy projects.  I think this is something for all of our churches to consider.


One of the great truths in the Bible for me is the strange and somewhat counterintuitive word that God gave to Jeremiah when the prophet urged the embittered and despairing exiles in Jeremiah 29:7: to ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’

What a posture that is!  Seeking the welfare of those around us, praying on their behalf, praying for them, and with them, and discovering our welfare/well-being in theirs.  When a lot of people seem to want to express the faith as something apart from the world, here is God calling the chosen people to be with those around them.


I would venture to say that the church has always been hosted by the community.  Not always by the powers that be, but always by people who are open and faithful.  There is good evidence that Jesus’ ministry was funded by donors – a group of women were named among them – Mary, Johanna, and Susanna [Luke 8:3].  Jesus was hosted.  We too are hosted.  Rates rebates, tax rebates for donations, community grants, neighbourhood goodwill, turning up to support fundraisers, and invitations to offer critical leadership in times of need or family celebrations.  Are we good at acknowledging this hosting and remembering community generosity as we seek ways of being church in these tougher times?  

I’m wondering if it is timely and reasonable for us to admit that we can’t do church without the communities that host us.  Maybe we never could do church without them!  Have we honoured their commitment to our presence among them?

Is the community’s role in hosting us recognised and celebrated with humility and gratitude?  Could attending to this remind us that the best of our energy and resources should always involve connecting or reconnecting with the communities we are among? 

Looking down

Sadly, more often than we care to admit, people experience the church as judgemental and only interested in preaching at them rather than listening and being with them.  They experience us as inflexible because the church still holds to a posture of expecting the community around it to fit in with the way, the time, and all the traditions that are put up as a non-negotiable given.  

The way

The way through may already exist.  It might be staring us in the face, but there’s some logging required [Matthew 7:3).  

In this tough season, where the temptation could be to cling to what has been, or respond to challenges institutionally, or hunker down and absent ourselves from the life of the communities around us, the constructive way forward might be more about surrendering and letting go, learning to acknowledge the good and godly around us, while offering humble sacrificial service with generous and grateful hearts.

We’ve all been the recipients of the service of many others.  There is a someone or some ones who each of us can recall and usually name who passed the gospel onto us.  This is how it works!  Who out there in our communities holds our names with reverence?  If they don’t is it because they do not know us, and we do not know them?  Who is going to take the step to attend to that?  We can!

It is for us to pay it forward and serve as we have been served.  With our five loaves and a couple of fishfingers, let’s see what Jesus might want to do with what and who we are!

“What we are looking for is what is looking.”

St. Francis of Assisi

 (An earlier version of this was presented verbally at the March Gathering of Alpine Presbytery.)