Just Church was a conference I attended last week put on by World Vision (NZ), which I promoted online here… In this post I share a few of my thoughts – not so much a comprehensive review, but more about what I’ve been left thinking about.
To be honest, I was attracted to this event because of my friendship with the organiser: Mark Pierson – I had been to the Just Worship event he put on in 2010 and I thought if Just Church was half as good as that earlier event it would be worth my effort being there. In the promo Just Church was certainly more “World Vision” connected than the Just Worship event had been, and I did wonder if I would be pressured to sponsor a child in Africa every lunch break. This is what happened:
A world vision
I’m not sure if World Vision has a new angle on their name, or if this has been the point all along, but I heard several people talking about their desire (and the desire of World Vision) to help people in New Zealand, particularly young people, to gain a world vision. This means they want to help people think about what is going on in the world, and be challenged and encouraged about doing something about it.
Hearing the phrase “having a world vision” several times throughout Just Church is probably the thing that has stuck with me the most. I know it’s semantics, but in my mind the organisational and branded words “World Vision” had nothing to do with having a world vision. Silly I know, as this was probably the original point of the name. In several small ways Just Church enhanced my own world vision.
Church/Christian related conferences generally have a format that includes some corporate worship together, which is normally a sing-along to a local version of the latest Contemporary Christian Music. I like the idea and opportunity to worship corporately with Christians beyond my usual faith-community. At Just Church there wasn’t a banjo in sight – but rather we were offered and guided through a diversity of corporate worship spaces and events with various levels of participation available, including eating and conversation.
I can think of 6 specific times of corporate worship in the programme, and only one of them was something I thought was a mis-match for me in that moment, and during that time I was happy simply noticing how others were connecting to God in that moment.
There had clearly been a lot of work put into the environment of the space, the starting point being darkness which was adjusted to suit the desires of the curators. I struggled a little bit spending the bulk of 2 days without natural light – mainly in the post-lunch sleepy afternoon slots…
Things I scribbled in my notebook that I thought were worth pondering later:
- Art is a mirror: what you see is a reflection of yourself, or a projection you put onto it (Maree Aldridge).
- Be seamless whole people – don’t worry about balance (social action versus evangelism), Jesus never worried about balance (Jayakumar Christian).
- World Vision staff in India live among the poor 24/7, they are the church among the poor, we are to be the church among the poor. “If you look at their lives, you will also want to follow their God” (Jayakumar Christian).
- World Vision India hopes that every middle class home in India will create a space to talk about the poor.
- Thinking of the church in NZ: what we’re preaching isn’t being understood, it is being lost in translation. There is a need for the church to respond in the public square with a thoughtful, intelligent, humble, graceful voice (Chris Clarke).
- Poverty is the powerful playing god in the lives of the poor, therefore kingdom-of-God people will naturally come head-on with these people. The church needs to model sacrifice in a world hungry for entitlement (Jayakumar Christian).
- Participation in the mission of the church is about obedience rather than smartness (Jayakumar Christian)
Just Church was billed as more of a conversation than a conference: an “un-conference”, where space would be created for engagement and reflection. I feel I still spent a lot of time sitting and listening – which seemed pretty conference-like to me.
There was certainly space created, and being an out-of-towner who knew about a quarter of the people attending, I probably spent too much time catching up with people I hadn’t seen for a while rather than intentionally engaging with ideas and people I didn’t know. I also wonder if my natural ‘networks’ at home, lack a world vision, and I should perhaps try to connect with Just-Church-type people more often.
Compared to the usual NZ Baptist gatherings I often attend, Just Church had a far greater gender and cultural diversity up front than I’m used to, which I appreciated (see my comments here where new research shows women can make a difference…)
Cameron Semmens probably wouldn’t like to be considered the best conference segue tool ever. When I first read in the programme that there was a Performance Poet, I actually sighed to myself. I couldn’t have been more naive! This guy was clever and does with words what Michael Leunig does with cartoons. It seemed like Cameron Semmens had written content especially for Just Church (he hadn’t – I asked), and having short bursts of his presence throughout the programme was excellent. Perhaps this was some of the un-conference plan.
It was also a great idea giving a slot in the programme to local comedian and previous World Vision staff worker, James Keating – every church conference should have a comedian!
Lunch on both days was both a demonstration of worship together, and a chance for continued engagement with related topics such as the voicelessness of refugees (see the photo above). Marcus Curnow from Newmarket Baptist Church showed how ‘communion’ can be much more than symbolic samples of bread and juice, you can read through the Just Church lunch table liturgy online here…
Would I go again?
Just Church was promoted as:
A gathering at the intersection of faith, justice, worship and the arts; to inspire, model, sustain and resource Christian communities in their building for the Kingdom of God.
For the first of its kind I think it achieved a lot of what it set out to do. If it became a biennial event I would endeavour to attend and bring others with me.
Did you go? What did you think?
Image: One of the lunch stations on the Saturday at Just Church curated by Marcus Curnow, photo: Mike Crudge.