Future of St Margaret’s
This is an edited version of the talk given by Joel Swadling as part of the St Margaret’s
Storytelling Session at the recent Community Diversity Festival. It deserves a wider audience
than it had at the Festival.
As the novelty of the millennium fades into the rear view of history, taking its place
within the purview of academia, organised religion – specifically, ecumenical and
inter-faith spirituality – are faced with new, equally exciting and intimidating
challenges. This is particularly true of an ageing congregation such as
St Margaret’s. We certainly have the option before us of ageing gracefully, slowly
allowing our number to dwindle in the comfortable knowledge of years well served.
However, more inspirationally, we are presented with a number of avenues through
which to spread our model of community service well into the coming decades.
A couple of years ago, arguments abounded as to the relevant and appropriate role
of our church within the local community of North Canberra. Should our primary
goal be to fill pews of a Sunday morning, or to focus our attentions on extending
Christian mission, reaching beyond the walls of the church through our social
While no clear consensus was arrived at, the general agreement was that we could
embrace our Sunday morning identity as a long-standing family church, with
decades of interwoven relationships, while continuing to probe the local community
in Christian service through our varied programs of social outreach. The hope being
that, gradually, these two identities may coalesce, especially if we incorporate
contemporary modes of communication such as advanced technology, social media
and popular culture.
St Margaret’s has risen in a number of ways to the challenges and opportunities
provided by new technologies and new forms of communication. On one level, the
installation of a hearing loop merely caters to the congregation as it currently exists,
several prominent members experiencing hearing difficulties. Increasingly,
however, our use of an updated audiovisual system, including a speaker system
(out of which we are admittedly still ironing the bugs) and digital projector, utilising
videos and power-point presentations, has already had the effect of expanding our
worship services into a more contemporary dimension. Additionally, the renewed
use of St Margaret’s Website, Twitter handle and Facebook presence are methods
we are experimenting with in order to reach a non-churchgoing public and increase
our public exposure within the community.
Our new minister, Rev Chris Lockley, is a frequent user of both Facebook and
Twitter. Through Chris’s prominent identity on social media, St Margaret’s is making
contact with other churches both within Canberra and indeed, throughout NSW and
beyond. Chris and I recently went to the movies together, to see ‘Avengers – Age of
Ultron’. Before the film started, Chris tweeted to several fellow ministers: ‘Does
going to the movies with a parishioner to see the Avengers constitute pastoral
care?’ When the movie finished, Chris again checked his Twitter page. Something
like a dozen or so responses to his question had been sent. (The most memorable
of which being: ‘No, for vengeance is mine says the Lord.”) This is admittedly a
comic and trivial example of social media use, but it illustrates how communication
amongst our church leaders is changing. St Margaret’s is picking up on these new
modes of communication, using them both to reach out into the local community,
and to more effectively communicate amongst ourselves in order to reinforce a
congregational solidity into which to welcome new members.
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