PROFILE: City Baptist, Launceston

Sep 09, 2021
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Big changes are heralded at City Baptist in this Sept/Oct 2021 ADVANCE | step by step. Read first of all an overview of the shift. And then a reflection about the changes from Gary Billing, below.

Planning for the Unseen

Change is in the wind for City Baptist as they work on their “Makeover Vision”
City Baptist Congregation
Sunday Morning at City Baptist

City Baptist Church, in the centre of Launceston, is preparing to undergo profound change. You may have heard that the Frederick Street property is on the market. You may not have heard that the church has also just called two younger women onto staff.

So what’s going on?

Hard decisions and a faithful response

Last November the church faced the necessity of some hard decisions. The congregation’s response once again has proved its courage and boldness. For some years they had sought to be a community of disciples based on the scriptures.

Serious discipleship led them to befriend those in greatest need – especially the street community and the refugee community. Mission, in turn, took the church into active advocacy for social justice. Local mission is now in the DNA of the church.

But how was this vital ministry to continue into the future, in a changing world? The Church Council prepared a vision in February, The Makeover Vision: Our role is to be a welcoming Christian presence in the centre of Launceston, befriending those on the margins. To establish this on a firm footing for the future, with God’s help we intend to become an intergenerational faith community, culturally relevant to younger adults, whilst remaining a Baptist Church with our particular values and priorities.

Discernment about property . . .

Thus began a further four-month discernment process. From November 2020 to June this year, the church met no less than six times to pray, discuss and eventually decide.

City Baptist
Our 180-year-old building

So with sadness, we decided to place the current property on the market. The 180-year building is full of historical significance and beauty. There is a strong sense of grief in moving on. Yet for the future, we believe the Gospel will be better served by direct street frontage, more flexibility, lower maintenance.

The Pastor, Jeff McKinnon, and his Advisory Group – Kay Hunter, Garry Billing and Ivan James – oversaw the ‘makeover process’.

We listed the property for sale in July. Tenders were due on 1 September. It may be then a further year before City vacates the property, because of the potential for a lease-back arrangement.

. . . and discernment about staff

The Church also appointed a Pastoral Search Committee, convened by Pastor Maddy Svoboda. Maddy eventually brought two names to the church in August.

Jenna and Anthea

Pictured, are Anthea Maynard (Team Leader) and Jenna Blackwell (Leadership Development) who were commissioned on Sunday 5th September. Until December 2022, City Baptist will undertake a period of transition, as the new Ministry Team is formed and prepares to take over from Jeff’s leadership.

Jeff will meet regularly with Anthea and Jenna (and eventually a third team member), until Jeff retires. It will be this new Ministry Team who will lead the church into its unseen future.

Unless a grain of wheat falls in the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds. 

John 12:24

Hope Found in Small Moments

The seed head of a dandelion substitutes the “O” in HOPE on the dust jacket of Tim Costello’s book of that title (Hardie Grant Books 2012). From the beautifully formed orb of the dandelion, seeds drift off in the breeze, scattering new life abroad. Tim’s compiled stories arise from his years of work as CEO of World Vision Australia. They depict the hope that can arise within confronting settings of challenge and disruptive change.

Our circumstances are obviously different, but for me, as a member of City Baptist, this dandelion image has become symbolic. It is evocative of both relinquishment and possibility as we anticipate a re-envisioned mission within Launceston CBD.

With fellow members, I value many aspects of our current church life. Our traditions of corporate worship, patterns of community ministry, the beauty of historic architecture, and so on. The dandelion image stands as a metaphor for all of this. There’s a part of me that would like to keep it intact as it is. However, I realise this is a transitory beauty, and we must allow life to be disseminated in fresh ways. Our current form will yield to life’s wider potential.

An invitation

I sense God now inviting us to surrender the conventional comforts of our current congregational life. But in inviting his Spirit to “blow where he will”, we offer our “seeds” to his breeze, confident of their germination in fresh earth. We open ourselves to strategic relocation To the formation of an enhanced leadership team. And to the seeking of more user-friendly facilities tailored to our distinctive city mission. We call this a “makeover vision”.

God’s gentle Spirit-breeze is evident in this new vision He is giving us. This is clear from the harmonious decisions arising from our shared prayer and discussion. I’ve found our legitimate sense of loss in relinquishing a conventional model dim, as we anticipate with hope the possibility of something excitingly new. I expect the core values of our mission will be novel, life-giving expression in ways we cannot yet see. But for which we can confidently trust God.

This fills us with well-grounded hope, and encourages us to remain radically open to God’s future.

Gary Billing

Garry Billing
Community Music Liaison Officer
City Baptist Church