Letter from Australia 120 – A New Beginning in Newcastle.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It’s been a long time since I last wrote you! https://theweeflea.com/2023/05/25/letter-from-australia-119-three-deaths-one-hope/
Life has been hectic – we have been back in Scotland for a month and then we were preparing to move to Newcastle. As we have now moved (ten days ago) I thought I would bring you up to scratch with why this has happened.
When we came to Australia, we did not know what we are coming to. It was like jumping off a cliff and now knowing where we would land. To be honest I would say that although we have loved being in Sydney, in terms of my work, it still feels as though we haven’t landed! We came here at the invitation of City Bible Forum, to begin a new evangelistic ministry called Third Space. The idea was that Steve McAlpine, and I would develop a ‘third space’ which would enable us to reach out to those who are not Christians. The three main planks were media, education (youth) and churches. Although we got the project started, we were badly hit by covid. For me the biggest frustration was that churches were not really buying into it. They thought CBF just did evangelism in CBD workplaces.
After a couple of years, I moved to work with Evangelism and New Churches, under the leadership of Phil Wheeler. ENC is part of the Sydney Anglican Diocese and was set up under John Chapman, ‘Chappo’, the best-known Australian evangelist. Based in Newtown beside Moore College, it seemed the ideal place to have the freedom to do evangelism through media, youth and churches.
Although we were able to do some of what I envisaged – it was increasingly difficult to get churches (the key!) to buy into what I was trying to say. I have lots of thoughts about why that was the case, but I will keep them to myself, for now! When Charlestown Presbyterian Church asked me to consider coming to Hamilton, I initially said no, but when Annabel saw the job spec – she said, ‘that is what you do – you should consider it’. So, we prayerfully agreed to investigate. To be honest the proposal from Charlestown re Hamilton was so radical (at least in Presbyterian terms) that I thought there was little chance it would be accepted by the Presbytery. Suffice it to say that the Lord has overruled, and I am about to be commissioned as the ‘gospel worker’ for Hamilton today. I am grateful to Simon Manchester for agreeing to come and preach. (If you are in the area and free it will be at 7pm – I believe it is also going to be streamed here – https://www.youtube.com/@hamiltonpresbyterian2350/streams
There are of course lots of ‘Scottish’ connections – it is after all Scots Kirk – they say that the Welsh came here to dig the coal, and the Scots came as engineers to tell them how to dig it! It is in Hamilton. I visited a local second hand bookshop where I was thrilled to discover an old 19th Century biography of David Livingstone, written by Robertson! I told the shopowner that it was a sign as I, like David Livingstone, was a Scottish missionary seeking to bring the Gospel to the heathen!
Because of my visa conditions I will continue to be employed by ENC, fulfil the speaking engagements I already have, and continue my media work. When the visa is approved, and I fulfil a couple of conditions I have from the Presbyterians, I will be ordained as the minister/evangelist here.
Scots Kirk Hamilton is small – which is what I love. I suspect I am the kind of minister who would never be asked to a big church – the risk would be too great! But when you are a small or dying church (like Brora and St Peters) I guess you have nothing to lose! It is in a great location for outreach – I have already been out on the streets and cafes talking to people – and the wider Newcastle area of over half a million people is wide open for evangelism. I would hope to work with other churches as well. My three main areas – Media, Youth and Church will continue.
Media – I will continue to podcast, videos and writing. If anything, I hope to increase them. I plan to do two days per week on media – trying to integrate it with the local church (s) as much as possible. I have already had a meeting with Rhema radio to discuss the possibility of working with them. The work on the Job movie will continue as well – by the way I have just seen the final draft of that – it is superb!
Youth – I will continue to work on the third teenage book, KNOCK, and hopefully get the opportunity to work in local schools, Universities and church youth groups. Already I have met with the Newcastle Christian Students leadership (AFES). I am due to speak at the AFES conference in Canberra this December.
Churches – This is where the big change will come. Obviously, most of my time will be tied up with seeking to evangelise through this small church. Bible teaching, prayer, pastoral care and church leadership will all be key. I am very thankful for Stephen Taylor, the minister of Charlestown Church, who will in effect be my boss! Charlestown have been tremendous already in offering support. They will be crucial in the days ahead. We aim to start a new outreach service in the evening in Feb.
All of this is of course dependent on the visa coming through by March. And even more so on the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit on this small situation. There have been a few encouraging signs already. One was yesterday – my first day at the church office – when I was approached by a businesswoman from the local business council and asked if I was something to do with the church. She just wanted to warn us about a street stall fair to be held on a Saturday in two weeks’ time. She told me that they were trying to revitalise the area. I asked if she thought spiritual revitalisation could be part of that – and we had a fascinating conversation after that.
Newcastle reminds me a lot of Dundee (although with more beaches and sunshine!). Annabel and I have settled in well. It is very different from Sydney and somewhat surreal for us to be here – but I have to say I love it. I feel very at home. Annabel has a two day per week job in Maitland about 45 minutes’ drive from our home – which is ideal for her – as she will be able to be more involved in the church.
Please remember our first service this coming Sunday (the 5th) at 9:30 in Hamilton – I am beginning a new series called ‘Look with Luke’!Look with Luke 1 – Fulfilled
Finally, I will be continuing a monthly prayer/newsletter from Newcastle – if you would like to continue to receive it, please let me know. (email@example.com)
“Those who sow in tears, will reap with joy” (Psalm 126:6)
Yours in Christ