by Jill Robertson
What am I passionate about? The answer for me is probably the same as it is for any one of us here – there are many things I am passionate about, some taking a priority at one time in my life, some just for a short time, others for a lifetime. I am pretty passionate about my family, and having my daughter and grandchildren visiting from Hong Kong at the moment brings one of those special passions to the surface.
However, it is my passion for the Wellspring Community that brings me here this morning. As many of you know I was elected to the position of co-leader in April 2007, and have therefore been on a steep learning curve in the last 18 months. How do you describe a community like ours – what purpose does it fulfil – how do we communicate – and many other questions had to come to my mind.
In case this is all new to you, let me fill you in with a bit of background about the community.
The Wellspring Community was started in 1992 by people who had visited Iona and wanted to bring that inspiration into the Australian context.
The Iona Community is known for many things, but mainly for its concern and work for peace and justice in our world and for its challenging worship material published by Wild Goose Publications. Their involvement in the world is inspired by an incarnational theology, which means working out Christian faith in the everyday life of all people. Bringing that influence to Australia from Iona was one thing, but we also had to become a distinctly Australian community, not an antipodean branch of a Scottish community.
One of the ways in which we became different is that we chose an iconic Australian windmill as our logo. Can you think of ways that the windmill could remind us of being in a Christian community?
We are only useful when we face the wind of the Spirit
We are connected to one another to form a strong circle, giving support and strength
We draw on the wellsprings of the water of life and spread it out appropriately
We can be a beacon of help to the community
Leadership comes from behind, guiding the membership
we need maintenance to be effective
In fact you can ponder on how a windmill represents a Christian community and get many more helpful answers. It is a good one.
If you look at the Wellspring Community website you will see some pointers about what is foundational to our community. I quote:
Christ is Central. We are a Christian community; therefore reconciliation between people and Christ is central in our lives. Deepening Christian spirituality and evangelism are essential. Prayer and Bible study are priorities.
Christ is in the World. Politics and economics are areas where the Wellspring Community is involved. We are committed to seeking a new, just economic order. Like the Iona Community we seek to rebuild the common life, bringing together work and worship, prayer and politics, sacred and secular, both globally and in our local community.
It is this last sentence that I see resounds with our bible reading for today. Jesus read a prophecy from the Hebrew bible about justice and freedom, and then said “today this is fulfilled in your hearing”. I am sure he was talking about his own calling, but he must also have been saying that it is up to us to put feet on the prophecy and bring it into being.
We are responsible to bring good news to the poor,
we are responsible to proclaim liberty to the captives, no matter what they are captive to,
We are responsible to set the oppressed free
and we do all this because the Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
There are no limits to the ways we can do this, and for me, being part of Wellspring enlarges my outlook and brings in the vision and understanding of what people are doing across Australia.
There are two levels of membership of the Wellspring Community – Friends, which is the first level of membership, and Members, who commit themselves to a deeper level of involvement. At the moment we have about 55 full Members and about 220 Friends. There is a predominance of members around the south eastern area of Australia, but that is also reflected in the spread of population in the country too. However we have members in all States and Territories.
Wellspring people meet in cell groups in their local region on a monthly or two monthly basis. In the ACT we meet every two months. That gives an opportunity for sharing what is happening in people’s lives as well as hearing the stories about what people are involved with that connect with Wellspring. We generally do not run programs ourselves, but it is the support of others for what each person is doing that joins us together. You may have heard of the SEE Change movement, started by Bob Douglas which is an environmental group encouraging intergenerational involvement in projects. He is a Wellspring Friend, and so we try to support him in his work. Gillian Hunt was involved in the SIEV X National Memorial, and we support her in that. Last year there was an afternoon’s pilgrimage calling for a just settlement in Palestine and Israel and we went to support that. On a wider level, we prayerfully supported people attending a peace protest in Queensland last year when the American military were here bombing our country in a training exercise. We had a group in Canberra the day before and on the day of the Apology to the Stolen Generations. Just this week I had an email asking for prayer support for some of our members in Newcastle as they had an appointment to meet with Julia Gillard when the cabinet meeting was there, to talk about Refugee education programs. Apparently they had a very satisfactory meeting and things seem to be moving there.
People are attracted to Wellspring for a variety of reasons, but a common theme is being drawn by the Celtic way of spirituality. A gentle, poetic, inclusive, radical spirituality, trying to be in tune with people and the earth and finding creative ways of expressing it. So, the Scottish influence is certainly an inspiration and we have close connections with Iona still.
However, as I said, we are a fully Australian community, with interests that are specific to our country. At the moment we have named 5 common areas that we see as priorities, but there are other areas of interest that some people have that are outside this list. These subjects are highlighted once a week in our prayer diary, with the other two days of the week being filled with healing and hospitality. So our timetable looks like this:
Sunday – Spirituality and worship
Monday – Peace and Social Justice
Tuesday – Healing
Wednesday – Aboriginal reconciliation
Thursday – The Environment
Friday – Ecumenical and Inter-faith issues
Saturday – Hospitality
Being a dispersed community with members all over Australia brings its own problems as far as communication is concerned. One way we get over this is our prayer diary that lists all members and friends over a period of one month, so gradually all people are prayed for and their own personal prayer request prayed for as well. Personally I find this the best way to get a feeling of one community over such a huge country.
Another way we get to feel like one community is that every two years we have a National Gathering. The last two have been in Canberra and the next one will be here too. At the moment we are working on the program details, but it looks like being a fabulous few days next March at Greenhills. Our theme for the Gathering is Called to Create… and Trisha Watts is going to be our worship leader, with her beautiful voice and gift for leading singing and other forms of creative worship. We have speakers talking on indigenous reconciliation, on creating community in a multi-cultural place like Australia, and within a dispersed community like Wellspring, a speaker talking on creating a peaceful and just community and a day on creating regeneration. There is a twist in the last one as we are referring to the environment, and also to getting more generations of people involved in Wellspring. At the moment the grey haired generations are well represented and we want to get a more balanced variety of hair colour in our membership. You are all welcome to come to the Gathering, it is not a closed shop, it is open to anyone who is interested. You can come for a minimum of half a day or up to the whole four days. You can download a brochure from our website, or see me for one if you are interested.
That is something about who we are and what we do, but there is still the question as to why I am passionate about Wellsping. As many of you know I am one of the people for whom the Iona experience is a special one. The forms of worship and the thrust of their theology is something that I find inspiring. It is also something that I want to be part of. My area of passion within Wellspring is Spirituality and Worship – which probably surprises no-one here. I am passionate about finding ways that bring God and God’s people into communication with each other. That is worship. That is spirituality. I really enjoy putting my efforts and energy into creative worship. Being a member of a church like Kippax makes it easy to fulfil, as the offer from Gordon to be involved in worship is an open one. Kippax is also a church that is vitally connected with our local community, working for peace and justice issues every day of the week. It is an inspiring place to belong to, isn’t it?
Another thing that I love about Wellspring is that it is ecumenical. I am passionately committed to the Uniting Church but I also love hearing from and working with people from other denominations. Breaking down barriers in God’s world can only be good. It also means that we can celebrate that which we have in common, and work together to further the kingdom of God.
As one of the leaders of Wellspring I have the privilege of doing some travelling around Australia to meet up with our members in their home states. So far I have visited the Blue Mountains group, the South Coast group in New South Wales and recently went to West Australia to meet the people there. At the end of November I am going to Victoria to meet the Wellspring people there. I am also responsible for Tasmania, so should have an excuse to visit there next year!
Let me finish by telling you the story of one of our Wellspring Friends – a person I met in my visit to West Australia.
Lesley deGrussa Macaulay lives and works in Meekatharra. She is a Uniting Church minister who is now the patrol padre for the Murchison Patrol in West Australia. This is a parish of 500,000 square kilometres. It makes a city parish look insignificant doesn’t it?
Meekatharra used to be a gold mining town as gold was first found there in 1890 and the town grew up after that. Mining continued and eventually became open-cut but that has recently closed so employment is an issue in the town. When you look over the country around Meeka it looks like this . It is outback Australia. There are hotels still, windmills, both real and ornamental also feature. There is a caravan park and a population of about 1000 people, 80% being indigenous and 20% non-indigenous. It is a neat and tidy town, looking as though the people take pride in it. Lesley is working on bridging the gaps that exist between the two parts of the community as well as going on patrol, visiting people in outlying stations and mines, sometimes being away from home and sleeping in her swag for up to 3 nights.
While there we went to the big cultural event of the year – a Battle of the Bands where nearly all the contestants were indigenous. We also met the character known as Mary G while there, who is a sort-of Aboriginal Edna Everidge. A delightful man, who is inspirational to his people and a delight as a cross-dressing entertainer. The couple who organised this event are Edgar and Theresa, an unusual couple as you can see, but a couple with a lot of heart and energy for the people. They are members of Lesley’s church.
The day after spending time with the indigenous people, we went to a Vietnam Veterans memorial service and that was 100% non-indigenous, you would hardly think you were in the same town. We went on patrol with Lesley to a talc mine about 150km west of Meekatharra and met some of her parishioners – remarkable people who just love living out in the outback.
Another morning we were invited by one of Lesley’s church members to visit her in her classroom at the school. This was a great time of learning what life was like for these children. Their excitement about hunting kangaroos, going out looking for bush medicines all with older family members – and generally having fun in the bush, were great to hear.
Lesley and her husband then drove us back to Perth over two days, and we saw many interesting places along the way.
Believe it or not, this is not only a travel story, it is saying how the Wellspring Community are asking me to go out there and meet our members and learn about their life and their hopes and worries, so that we can show them we care, and enable us to support them more effectively as a community. We want to make these connections and feel like one community across the country. After those few days with Lesley I certainly feel more in touch with what her life is like and what she is passionate about so that I can support her more fully.
You too are part of all this as I am one of the members of the church here. When I became a co-leader of Wellspring I had a special blessing in the 1030 service and you prayed for me and I felt truly blessed and cared for by you. Your questions about how things are going for me show that you are interested and supportive of me as I continue in this learning curve of leadership.
For myself I think that the bible verse that summarises my hopes for my leadership and for the Wellspring Community as a whole is Micah 6:8 so I will finish with this.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.