The Board of The New Church in Australia has been working hard in recent years to instigate individual membership of The New Church in Australia. Our Assembly last year, and the Special General Meeting held in November put the necessary changes to the constitution in place. So, it is with some celebration that we welcomed Ros Taylor as our first associate member at the board meeting on 28 the March 2017.
Given the success of last year’s General Assembly, planning is now underway for our next one, to be held on 4th & 5th of May 2018. This time around it will be held at The Tops, where family camp was held earlier this year. Watch this space for further details.
It is particularly pleasing that Mrs Bev Sheppard is being welcomed as our newest Board member, from July. She brings a wealth of experience with her, and expands the Board’s geographical representation to Queensland. Bev replaces Rev. Julian Duckworth, who is stepping down from the Board following our July meeting. Julian was President between 2001 and 2016, Vice-President during the last 12 months, and a long-standing member of the board. I’ve been grateful to have his assistance in my first year as President, and the ability to call upon his expertise wherever and whenever needed.
I also wanted to share with everyone the exciting work of our Australian New Church College. The Board received regular reports from Rev David Millar, and we are often astonished about the sheer amount that David achieves. Most recently we have heard about the explaining Logopraxis programme, and its spread both nationally and internationally. If you talk to any of the local participants they will quickly recommend it as a valuable tool for reading and applying the teachings of the New Church. But we have also heard how College is commencing the training of ministers for service in the Lord’s New Church in Africa.
Where will we be in ten years?
In my report to the Board of the New Church in Australia (in April 2017), I wrote about the general state of decline I see around our societies. It is right, then, to consider why this is happening, and whether anything can be done to reverse that trend.
In our teachings we read:
“In its beginning, every church regards goods of life in first place, and secondly doctrinal truths. But as a church declines, it begins to regard doctrinal truths in first place, and secondly goods of life. And in the end it at last regards faith only, and it not only divorces goods of charity from faith then, but even gives up practice of them.” (Apocalypse Revealed, paragraph 82)
When we read passages like this – there are plenty that state the decline in charity is the root cause of the end of our church (see Heavenly Secrets 1843, 2417, 2910, 3489, 4689) – we instinctively gloss over and reject them. I look at my own life, and I say, “Well, I am a good person: who would say that I lack charity, or that I don’t have the good of life?” And so, we look for other explanations. We might look at others and assume that, if there is charity lacking, it must be THOSE people who are to blame: it’s their fault, because I know it isn’t me. We might look at our external circumstances in the world: people out there just aren’t interested in religion any more. We might look to some detail of our worship practices: perhaps we’re doing our religion wrong in some way.
These are all understandable reasonings, but let me tell you that every one of them is an illusion of the senses and the proprium. Our teachings point to ONLY ONE cause of the decline and death of a church. How can that be?
Let me explain it like this. Any nation, society, community, or organisation, is exactly like an individual person in the eyes of the Lord. We learn this from Swedenborg’s description of heaven as the Greatest Human (for example, in Heavenly Secrets, paragraphs 457, 3986, 9613). If, on any level, our sole purpose is mere survival or self-interest in any form, we may as well not exist. That applies to me in my own spiritual journey, and to us as an organisation. Whenever and wherever self-interest rules, the seeds of self-destruction exist. However healthy and prosperous we may initially appear, however long it takes, decline and destruction are inevitable. Our organisation may be made up of spiritually-healthy individuals, but if an organisation’s only purpose is its own survival, then what use does it serve? If I can serve my Lord and my fellow man without my church – or worse still, despite the organisation we call church – then, it is destined to fall apart at the seams.
So, when I see that we are in a state of decline, and I say it out loud, I do not blame any one person. As far as I can tell, every single person I know in our societies has charity operative within his or her life. Each of you, in your own way and in your own sphere, serves the Lord, you serve your colleagues, neighbours, friends, other members of our nation and society.
Neither do I look at the world around us, with helpless sighs, as though there’s nothing to be done, as though it’s a lost cause. I look to take responsibility for what is happening to our church, and for the changes that can – and must – take place if we are to survive. But remember, it’s not about mere survival, it’s about serving.
Each society of the New Church across Australia must come together with a shared useful purpose greater than its own existence, and greater than the number of people in our pews. What is the value of its continued existence otherwise? No value whatsoever. It ought to die, and in the Lord’s mercy, it will. This is the challenge we must face: that of finding a shared useful purpose.
“… a person must be concerned about his soul not for its own sake but for the services it must perform in both worlds.” (Heavenly Secrets, paragraph 5949, section 2)
So, let me pose two questions. Firstly, what purpose SHOULD we exist for, as a church? What would excite and inspire you? What would allow you to serve in a way that no other earthly organisation can?
And secondly, what will you do about it?