The Tree of Cityside Practices

Brenda Rockell
Sunday, 28 January 2007

At the start of this year, I'd like to take a brief moment to set out how I see Cityside moving into the year, and into the coming years, as a community of practice, as people who together and individually aim to follow Jesus in our place, in our time.

Some of you will remember that last year I did a sermon series based on the idea of 'practising our faith'. The main thrust of that series was to emphasise the importance of paying attention to practice in living out the Christian faith. And by practice, I mean a regular pattern of actions that make up a deliberately Christian lifestyle. Rather than holding to some ideas about Jesus, or talking about who Jesus is, or what he means to us...what would it look like to live in his footsteps?

This book, 'the practising congregation' by Diana Butler Bass, is a book of optimism and hope for the future of what she calls the 'mainline church' – that part of the church that is supposed to be in decline. In the book, she describes some new life that's emerging in faithful churches that have dedicated themselves to practising their faith, in relation to the communities around them. For these churches, arguing over doctrine is less important than working out what it means to be hospitable to others. And debates about mission and strategy are less important than offering healing and forgiveness to each other and to those who come in contact with them.

I've spent some time thinking about Cityside as a community of practice. As I've listened and watched and been part of some of the initiatives that have emerged from among us, and as I've thought about what we're good at, and what seems to inspire us, I've come up with this 'tree', as a way of organising or visualising what our practices might be and become.

This tree is one way of trying to get some kind of handle on the ways that together we seek to live out our faith in relation to this world we're in. You might organise this tree differently, or feel that crucial aspects of our life have been missed out, or that things are on there that are alien to your experience of this community. I'm keen to hear from you if that's the case.

I don't intend for us to 'do' anything with this tree in the way of programmes, committees, or strategies.

I'd simply like to offer it to us as an encouragement...the things on this tree are things that are already happening among us, some things strongly, and some things in only a fledgling way at present.

And I'd like to offer it as a this a picture of church that inspires you? Which practices in particular? And how do you see yourself as contributing to various aspects of this picture? Are there things on here that you'd be sad to see disappear? Do they need your help to keep going, or get started?

Last week, Ken read to us from 1 Corinthians 12, the passage about the body, and its different strengths and weaknesses, its gifts and diversity. I'm going to return to that passage later in the year. I'd like us to explore the question of what the diverse gifts and voices are that we hold within our part of the body, here at Cityside – what opportunities are there for the different strengths and callings among us to be recognised, and to contribute to our overall ministry in our community here in Auckland, and worldwide.

My hope is that having a kind of taxonomy, such as this tree, might help some among us identify their point of connection, and their contribution. Like I said, there might be stuff that you're involved in that's missing from here. I'd like to add it. There might be branches of this tree that you think are weak, rotting, maybe about to fall off – what can we do about that? It may be that our tree is growing lopsided, because one of its branches is getting too much attention – what can we do about that?

I like the fact that this tree is in bud. It's got more leaves to grow on it yet. And there are wee berries – not many, but some...what are the birds that will come to eat from our tree? What kind of nourishment will they get?

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all trees, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.