(The following is a talk given at the New Church in Australia Assembly May 2018 by Sarah Walker)
Audio of Talk
Audio of Q&A Following Talk
The external is merely something that provides an outward form in which the internal can exist and lead a life in accord with what flows into it from the Lord. AC 6284
The church, where the Word is read and the Lord is known by it, is like the heart and lungs in that man; and it is these two founts of life in the human body which allow all the other limbs and organs to remain in existence and live. De Verbo 17
I’d like to preface this by saying that I see this as a reminder from the Lord on where our first focus should always lie. In no way should this disregard all the hard work and effort that goes into making the organization run smoothly as it stands today.
About 3 weeks ago I was suddenly awake at 4 am and found that what I’m about to share with you now was just there in my mind . . . at my fingertips, ready to type. I feel that it was very specifically given to me by the Lord to share with you.
I was born into the New Church. Recently I worked out that I’m at least the 6th generation of New Church families. Since my mid-teens, I’ve felt a strong sense of responsibility towards the Church and the care of her and its future. But for most of my 20’s and 30s, I watched on in dismay and sadness as it became smaller and smaller and smaller. In our Perth society, I’m pretty much the only one left of the original Sunday School group of about 30 children. And this wasn’t just happening in Perth. I witnessed the same when I lived in the UK and the USA and within Australia in general. So up until recently I had kind of given up or at least put it on the back burner. I’d fallen into a state of numbness. I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to begin. I didn’t know what was required of me and felt I had nothing to offer. This was also indicative of what my relationship with the Lord had become, too. That changed for me once I started engaging with the Logopraxis approach and community—but I’ll come back to that later.
I’m just going to pull back a bit and explain where I’ve come from. I trained as an Occupational Therapist and worked for about 10 years or so initially in mental health, in acute and community settings and then in brain injury rehab with young adults, from the range of people in a vegetative state all the way through to living in the community (and “young adults” are classified as anyone under the age of 65 years!) When my son, Finn, was 10 months old I took him to a music and movement class called “Music Together” in San Francisco, where we were living at the time. I instantly fell in love with the program and so when we moved back to Perth I decided to ditch my health career and start up my own centre here. It wasn’t well known in Australia at the time—there was only one other centre in Melbourne, so it was a real grassroots program for me to set up. I started with 6 families and now 6 years later, I have about 150 families and 2 teachers. There’s potential for a lot more growth but I’m happy with the workload at the moment so I’ve chosen not to expand it.
My most powerful and effective course of advertising has been word of mouth. When families come to class and experience the joy and connection of being in a musical community, see the program and how it inspires them to use the music and ideas in their daily lives, and how it affects their children and family life, they naturally want to share it with others. And so they do! They tell their friends, they tell their family, they encourage friends to come to the program and some even actively discourage their friends from going to other programs. Some even get online and make comments on parenting forums completely unsolicited by me. But as they share it, it’s always the joy in their face and their authentic enthusiasm—however that presents in them because its different for everyone—this always shines through. And that’s what sells it when they speak about it.
I think of it as “love attracts love.” When we experience love—when we experience the Lord, we naturally want to share this with others. Love by its very nature longs to be sent back out again. It wants to be expressed and put to use.
Now it may seem counterintuitive to pull back and individually look within as a means of growing our collective, external church organization, but we each need to have that passionate love, and experience of the Lord in our lives—that just can’t be contained and longs to be sent back out again!
In the last year or so I’ve found myself shamelessly sharing my experience with others. A good example of this was during Easter this year. I took my children along to a Sunday morning Easter service at our local Anglican church. The sermon the minister gave was on cosmology and the nature of modern-day science-thinking on this subject. It explained how this connects with what the Bible has said all along about the nature of love. And I just couldn’t help myself! I went up to her at the end and shook her hand (as they do in Anglican churches on the way out), and told her how much I had connected with what she said. I explained how it connected so much with what Swedenborg said about the nature of love as the organic substance of life. She looked at me, leaned in and said, “You’ve just answered a prayer. I’ve been wanting to explore this idea more and I didn’t know where to look next.” After I’d repeated the name “Swedenborg” at least five times, she went and got a piece of paper and made me write it down for her. Now I don’t know if that will eventuate to anything for her but she connected with me because of my authenticity—my joy and lived experience of it spoke to her. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t know what I was going to say, I just knew that I was compelled to speak. The Lord moved in me and spoke.
A wise person recently pointed out to me that if we focus on the internals, then the externals will eventually take care of themselves. I don’t mean that we should stop what we’re doing, or necessarily change what we’re doing as an organization, but if we make it our focus every day, to come to the Word and let it move us and connect within us, and let Him guide us and direct us… then how we approach the externals is going to change. It has to. Logopraxis was what helped me to make this change—to have this focus. Logopraxis emphasizes bringing the Word into your life. We are asked to read the Text with a focus on application rather than understanding. That way you can not just understand a truth, but also see how it actually applies in your life, and therefore come to know that truth. This was a significant concept for me. But more importantly, it was the connection with others and a connection with a spiritual community. Every two weeks we come back to our life group and share how we have experienced these truths, the Word, the Lord, working in us. We hear and witness each others’ accounts and are fed and sustained by these. They offer us new understandings and perspectives. And these goods and truth that we share—they ARE the Lord and He is what connects us together as a community, and He is what connects us together as a church.
We know that wherever the Word is read and truly cherished (as in lived and put into practice,) then there is the church. We know that in the Grand Man the church represents the heart and lungs. They aren’t a large part of the body like the skin and blood vessels, but they are a vital part. I suspect that this will always be reflected in our numbers within the organization, too, and that it will always be small in proportion to the general population. BUT they are vital and it’s vital that they are healthy because the body can’t survive without the heart and lungs. The heart and lungs are what allow the rest of the body to remain in existence and live.
As I said earlier, I took this as a good a reminder from the Lord. Each of us needs to find a way of coming to the Word every day and letting Him connect with us and move us and guide us. And then we need to share this experience with each other. And if we can do these two things—then we will have a healthy church. And then the externals will fall into place. They will naturally form as and when the Lord needs them to.
After I’d written this down, I spent the next few weeks coming across quotes that affirmed all this for me. These are two that jumped off the page.
The expression church is used in everyday language to describe a congregation in general, but each member of the congregations must be a church if that greater church is to exist. AC 4292
The Lord speaks to a member of the church in no other way than through the Word. AC 10290