President’s Page: “Micro-Outreach” The gist of a presentation given at the Assembly

O the Lord is good to me,
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need,
the sun, the rain, and the apple-seed.
The Lord is good to me.

And every seed that grows
will grow into a tree.
And one day soon there’ll be apples there,
for everyone in the world to share.
The Lord is good to me.

The Johnny Appleseed Grace is a regular feature of New Church family camp (retreat) mealtimes. But I wonder how many of you know the second verse?

While at college in Manchester, we often shared in this sung grace at lunchtimes, and Mary Duckworth (the UK’s first female minister, who trained alongside me) would insist that we sang the second verse. For which I will be forever grateful.

And every seed that grows …

I wonder whether you have heard of “micro-investing”? If you find it hard to save, you can now get an app on your smartphone which links to your credit card. Every time you go to the supermarket, the app rounds your purchase up to the nearest dollar, takes those extra cents and squirrels them away in a savings account until such time as you have enough money to purchase something like shares on the stock market. The theory is that you don’t miss those spare cents, but over time, they accumulate into substantial savings. The tiny seed becomes a tree which provides fruit for generations to come.

When we talk about outreach, we can tend to think that for anything to be worthy of the name, it is are supposed to be large, expensive, difficult and best left to the experts. We tend to avoid doing outreach as a result, just like we avoid saving. So, I want to focus on “micro-outreach”: that is, projects that are little, inexpensive, ordinary, and easy.

Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, … So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.’ (Mark 12:42-44)

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. (The Dalai Lama)

There are things that we can all do that make a difference. I want to share a few ideas.

As part of my regular week, I drive through the Canberra suburbs of Lyneham and O’Connor. At one corner there is a little park, where someone has placed an old bar fridge. It is surrounded by some old garden chairs, and on its side is a sign which reads, “The Lyneham and O’Connor Lending Library”. It occurred to me that it would be quite easy to take one of the books from my shelves and contribute it to that library. Then a few weeks ago I came across an article about little libraries. It turns out there are 35 little libraries in Canberra alone. What is more, there is a website that lists the location of all of them. So my project is to collect 35 secondhand books, by Swedenborg, Philip Groves, or other New Church authors and place them in those libraries around town.

Why not have a look for one in your area? Go to streetlibrary.org.au

My own micro-outreach project is called, “The Bible for Atheists”. Time is my greatest limitation, so I need a project that allows me to make the best use of the time I have available. In December last year, we received a question from an atheist via the New Church in Canberra Facebook page. I decided I could write a pretty good answer. So beginning this year, I answered that question in a sermon, recorded it, advertised the result on Facebook, and asked for more questions. The result has been more than a dozen questions which I have used as the basis for our regular services of worship, recorded, and advertised on Facebook again.

As always, reactions have been varied. But I have enjoyed some good, thoughtful conversations, and we are now beginning to see people expressing an interest in attending future events.

Here are some of the other ideas shared at the assembly.

Rev Julian Duckworth shared Rev Alfred Acton’s ideas on speaking to others about the New Church. He suggested preparing something worth saying (but brief) on: God, the afterlife, the Bible, your spiritual life, and marriage.

Rev Darren Brunne produces little cards on various spiritual qualities that can be handed to friends and colleagues or left on coffee shop tables for others to find.

June Johnson shared about her computer awareness classes, held at the Adelaide church. We brainstormed how to promote them, using: meetup.com website; shopping centre, supermarket, or council noticeboards; coffee shop windows; local newspaper or radio community bulletin boards; placing a sign on the roadside; going into an op-shop and putting a note in all the clothing pockets (cheeky!); doctor or dentist surgeries; senior’s centres or newspapers; word of mouth (giving a card to people who already attend class); aged care facilities and lounges; letterbox drop; local libraries; lawn bowls club; and Probus clubs.

These are only a few ideas. The point is, we can each find projects – small, inexpensive, ordinary, and easy – that play to our strengths, and utilise our own particular skills.

If there’s anything I’m most proud of in Canberra, it’s that we have a number of members who are actively talking about their faith. They each share it in their own ways using their own abilities. No doubt there are others doing the same who I’m not aware of. I imagine a church which encourages this highly-individual, personal, micro-outreach: the future for such a church is a bright one, irrespective of its size.

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