Around 16 years ago I was selling our home in Lesmurdie and getting organised to set off on the adventure that birthed this blog. That afternoon a couple walked in to check out our house and as we got talking I discovered they lived just around the corner from me – maybe 5 houses away.
I asked ‘how have you found it living in a suburb where they aren’t too many people like us? (By ‘us’ I meant young families.)
He responded ‘Really? We hadn’t noticed. In fact most Friday nights a few of us from the street get together for pizza and drinks. We love it here.’
We chatted some more and he left, but as he walked away I realised that maybe these people had been there but I hadn’t seen them. They weren’t in my ‘church pastor’ field of vision and my life was so pre-occupied with all things ‘church’ that I wouldn’t have had time for them anyway.
A large part of the reason we were selling the house and moving was that we wanted to start again – to extricate ourselves from the busy pastoral life we had created and find our way into a new space – where we knew our neighbours, where we had time to spend with them, where ‘church’ wasn’t such a dominating and all consuming presence in our lives.
Sometimes you just have to break free and start over and while there were many other factors involved, one thing I was confident of was that I would struggle to ‘re-invent’ myself while I stayed in the same role in the same community.
So we left with one of our prime objectives being to spend less time with church people and more time with the people in our street and our local community. When I would speak to churches about this stuff I would say ‘we need to spend less time trying to get the community into church and more time getting the church back into the community.’ It was the early days of the missional movement and the idea of incarnational ministry was on the front burner for us.
I have no doubt there were people at our previous church who were actually living very healthy, balanced lives engaged with both church and community, but my hunch is that because we didn’t see them often enough at church we wondered (and worried) about the shape of their faith… ouch… It’s what happens when your life revolves around and is dominated by ‘Sunday church’.
So we moved to Butler on the missionary adventure that was Upstream and it was a valuable 8 years of pushing ourselves hard in the opposite direction, but it felt just like that – pushing ourselves. Maybe it was necessary as we had spent so long looking inwards, but in it all I never really hit my stride. I never settled into just being myself and feeling at ease with the calling we had set out on. I was always ‘trying hard’ and the very word ‘tryhard’ is used to describe someone who just isn’t cutting it. I wasn’t cutting it and while I knew the theory my practice always felt a step behind the game.
We wound up Upstream in 2003 around the time we headed off around Oz and when we came back we began to lead Quinns. After two years we moved house to Yanchep and settled in with no ambitions to be missionaries or religious people of any sort. I just went surfing, walked the dog and did all the stuff normal people do. We have been there 9 years now and it is very much home.
Last night we sat around the table enjoying pizza and pancake with good friends from the top of our street – folks we have connected with well enough to even go on holidays with. This evening we will walk across the road to another friend’s home where we will celebrate a birthday with her and some others from our street. These are now common occurrences – a part of our lives that I have been taking for granted.
But as we sat there last night I felt that voice deep in my gut say ‘This is what you hoped for. This is what you couldn’t ‘make happen’, but it happened all by itself as you just got on with living your life.’ And in that moment there was genuine joy – because these are real friends who we love to spend time with and who know our ‘Jesus obsession’ even if they don’t share it.
Tomorrow morning we will skip church at Quinns and head back to Lesmurdie for the church’s 50th anniversary along with some of the other pastors who were also there and it will be great to see old friends from a wonderful part of our life. And it was in thinking about going back that it dawned on me that we are now actually living the life we had hoped for and there is much to be grateful for.