What we discovered at the Church in the Fields is well worth noting! This young congregation was planted in 2007 in the town of Macquarie Fields, a suburb just south of Sydney, Australia, and exists because of a Global Mission Project of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We visited them in late 2009.
This congregation was the epitome of warmth and friendliness, love and acceptance. Though the church group was only two years old, already 80 were attending. We counted! There were 32 young people in their early to middle teens, 28 late teens through young adults, with a few mature adults sprinkled among them, and the rest were children.
The church had been planted to support a religious private school that served pre-kindergarten through grade 11 and was located on the school grounds. While the MacArthur Adventist College had served primarily the children of constituent Seventh-day Adventist churches in the surrounding communities for more than 30 years, in the last 5 years the church group had begun to serve a broader community of young people—and the gathering had begun to grow and thrive. Of the 208 current students, 70 percent are not members of an Adventist church. Many of them lived with their parents in the poorer section of the city and are identified as underprivileged youngsters whose tuition is covered by private funds. Some of the young people had asked, “When can we begin to worship?” And thus, the principal, Jill Pearce, with her family, the school chaplain, and two additional couples formed the core of the church.
What did we discover the day of our visit? What did we feel they are doing right?
• At the entrance to the school grounds was the sign, NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED. Good! I thought. We can come in!
• Arriving a few minutes early, we found the grounds alive with kids and adults. We were surrounded by activity—we were enveloped by it.
• We were greeted by two women who happened to be crossing the schoolyard and took the time to stop and talk for a few minutes. We felt welcome. Already!
• Stepping into the auditorium, we saw the front of the room set up with chairs, a small stage, and equipment where the leaders were preparing for the beginning of worship. In the back half of the room were small, round tables with chairs and a breakfast bar set with juice, hot drinks, and a buffet. We were invited to eat or simply sit and chat.
• Andre Afamasaga, the school chaplain and church plant leader, joined us and began to tell us about his love—the kids, the parents, the community, the Church in the Fields. Later he excused himself to prepare for the worship service, and Jill, the principal of the school, slipped into a chair beside us to continue the conversation.
• Amy, a young Global Mission pioneer, stopped by with her felt-tipped marker and name tags. She was tagging everyone. We were tagged too—Don, Marti. And that is how people greeted us from then on.
• Hugs, kisses, and broad smiles were flying fast from person to person with such genuine affection that we knew this was a loving congregation.
• A young fellow named Mark invited each of us to choose an envelope from an array he held out to us. Peeking inside we found pictures he had hand painted on 4 x 8 cards—he was using his gifts in ministry.
• Both diversity and acceptance were evident for differences in age, social status, religious experience, race, and gender. Interaction seemed free and easy. We were introduced as international guests to the entire group.
• Participation was open to all.
• It was a simple worship service, nothing extraneous. A couple led the praise singing. A young mother read a scripture as she invited people to give their tithes and offerings, and then two earliteen boys passed the offering baskets. A woman, who I later learned was not yet a member, invited folks to share about their week—their struggles and blessings—and they did just that with a trusting openness; then the praises and requests were lifted to God in prayer. Ray and his wife, Emma, sang a rap song with beautiful words and a praise chorus that we could all join. A two-person skit offered the question, Do you trust God to be in charge of your life? And the message, presented by a sharp, young Aboriginal guest pastor, pointed out that it takes more faith when God does not answer your prayer the way you would like than when you receive the expected answer. Finally, a video of the recent baptism of seven of the young people was narrated by Andre, and others were invited to receive Jesus as Lord and prepare for a later baptism. Three of the adults responded during the final prayer.
• The worship service ended and folks separated into Discovery Bible classes for Kindergartners, Kids, Youth, Adults, and Fresh, a class for new believers.
• On a screen appeared the words, Church in the Fields, an Adventist community loving God and others.
• Before we left, Amy came to hug us and pray for us, asking God to bless us through the coming week.
So many things this young church did were so right! They received one another with such real love and warmth. And they didn’t come tiptoeing shyly before a God they didn’t know either. They came with joy—with exuberance. And we pictured God’s delight as they approached.