Hillston-Gunbar is a multi-linked congregation with Merriwagga, Goolgowi and Gunbar, all considerable distances apart, (Gunbar 94km from Hillston). A feeling of belonging as a church family is important. A monthly Bulletin aims to keep everyone connected with a segment of ‘news from around the parish.’ Church Council meets for fellowship three times a year for a meal before meetings at the Merriwagga Black Stump Hotel.
We have been lay-led for 16 years. I remember when the last Pastor left the congregation asked me,” What should we do now? Go to the Baptists or the Anglicans?” With trembling faith, I suggested we give it 6 months and see what God would have us do. God thawed out his frozen assets and our congregations grew in faith and number as people became involved worship and service.
We have a ‘Caring and Sharing’ segment in worship where joys and concerns are named and spontaneously gathered into a communal prayer. Because we are small in numbers, we are well known to each other. Each Holy Communion Sunday people write their name on a small prayer card. These are collected with the offering and distributed at the end of the service with the instructions to please pray for that person every day until the next Communion service. This way everyone gets prayed for.
We have good ecumenical relationships of trust and respect which are made stronger in our need for each other. The Hillston Baptist Church combines with Uniting each first Sunday of the month and the Anglican Church is involved when they can arrange a service. Last Easter all churches combined to celebrate ‘resurrection’ as a community event. Eighty people attended and many stayed for a BBQ lunch. It was wonderful!
Last year I was asked to baptise a baby knowing the mother attended the Baptist Church. The Baptist lay leader said: ‘we dedicate – you baptise, go ahead.” The parents were supported by 12 sponsors, a mix from both churches, the body of Christ united in a small community.
Hillston’s church notice board includes the caption “Sharing God’s Love in our Community.”
To encompass the needs of the wider community – we have a prayer-chain ministry and a relief account ready to help families in crises. The Gunbar ladies know how to bake the love of God into their cakes and biscuits and these and other random acts of kindness are a welcome surprise at Christmas to every person in an aged care facility. Small things with great love!
Pastoral care takes time and energy, but is so rewarding. I have been delighted to discover God in the small things we do and see every day. One day I was massaging a hospital patient’s hands, suddenly I found mine were the hands being massaged, gently, firmly. She was ministering to me! And I let her! The lady had no speech but her smile and shining eyes affirmed love and life, the sacredness in the ordinary.
Then, there are those stressful times when invited into people’s lives with all their chaos and loss. A tragic funeral for a precious two-year-old boy was followed by a request to marry a terminally ill bride. One becomes very vulnerable in and to these moments. Troy and Marie were married in the lovely old Gunbar Pioneer Memorial church. The wedding was fast-forwarded by two months on the advice of Marie’s oncologist. In the couples’ words the ceremony was an ‘amazing and happy celebration’. Their love, tenacity, courage, honesty and hope was inspirational and I was enriched by being part of their journey. Strange how that happens! Recently Troy interrupted Marie’s frequent texting to me that “every day was a blessing” to let me know that Marie was now in palliative care at Hay Hospital and I was welcome to visit. I imagined they might want to plan a funeral, but no! They wanted to seize the present moment. Love and laughter filled the hospital room as together they recounted their honeymoon adventure. Before I left them with a prayer and holding cross, they asked if I had received the business cards they had sent as a ‘thank you’. Until that moment I had no idea who had sent them – a colourful design with just “Jenny Rose” with phone and email details. No entitlement, just plain and simple. A lovely gift to remind me of ‘small and ordinary’ and how blessed I am to be just that!
Even though we have no heralding angels or bright stars to guide us, God is at work among us. God still intervenes in the ‘small’ and the ‘ordinary’, for that’s where we are mostly.
We can see glimpses of the kingdom when we pay attention to the mundane and everyday places and people. We can witness God’s living, loving presence working through people and tell others when and where we saw God at work and point to God with us – Emmanuel.
Our difficulties are that we are becoming tired and ageing fast and have no succession plan.
Hillston-Gunbar has recently become part of the new Northern Region of the Riverina Presbytery and, when appointed, will be under the leadership of a ‘Presbyter’ based in Griffith. We look forward to being part of Northmead UC’s Rural Engagement Plan with Rev Niall Reid coming to provide ministry support and ‘enabling’ in the next year. This all meshes with the goals of “Saltbush – Mobilising ministry with the Scattered Community”.
We are not sure what all this will look like. But we can pray that the energy of God’s creative love will flow in and through us, as we trust God for the future.