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Stepping out in faith as part of a ‘walking church’


‘Walking Church’ is a new way of being The Salvation Army outside a church building.
BY LAUREN MARTIN

 

As The Salvation Army grapples with what church looks like in a post-COVID world, two missional Salvos have stepped out in faith and are modelling one way to be ‘church’ outside of a building.

 

Major Sandra McLean is The Salvation Army Australia’s General Manager of the ‘Generations and Faith’ stream in the Mission Support Department. It’s a long job title, but basically, she’s a woman on a mission to help Salvos across Australia connect people to Jesus in new ways.

 

“I spend a lot of time talking to people about new models of faith community, but I felt that people don’t always know where to begin,” she says, adding that the familiar model of church is very clearly in decline, so new ways of being God’s people are essential.

 

Salvation Army leaders – from the Territorial Commander to Divisional Commanders and Area Officers are giving corps leaders permission to go out and try new things. However, the existing model of Sunday gathered worship is still the predominant way of being church in The Salvation Army.

 

“We are encouraging officers to reimagine what it means to be a movement rather than a form of church that is set in stone,” she says.

 

Last year, Sandra and a colleague within her stream, Major Bryce Davies, decided that God was telling them not just to empower and encourage new missional expressions of The Salvation Army but to start one themselves to model to others what they can look like.

 

Major Sandra McLean (Melbourne) and Major Bryce Davies (Brisbane) operate ‘Walking Churches’ in their regions.

So, they both started ‘Walking Churches’ – a regular walking group with an intentional focus on having meaningful conversations and time for prayer and fellowship. Sandra and her husband Andrew’s Walking Church is connected to Merri-bek Corps in Melbourne and meets at a local park on the first Saturday of the month.

 

“It’s a very simple format,” explains Sandra. “We read a scripture at the start and that’s the focus of the discussion as we walk for about five kilometres. We have had up to nine people come along; sometimes, we have had just one.”

 

But Sandra’s not worried about numbers. “What we have found is that the people who have come are meant to be there,” she says. After the walk, everyone sits at a park table and shares a BYO lunch. In the week after the gathering, Sandra and Andrew will message the people who attended to check in with them and ask them how they’re doing. If there is a specific prayer request, they will follow up and continue to pray. In traditional churches, this is called ‘pastoral care’; for Sandra, this is simply modelling what it means to live in loving community with one another.

 

In Brisbane, Bryce’s Walking Church meets every two weeks on a Sunday afternoon at a local park. His group starts things differently, with silence.

 

“We start with quite intentional quiet walking; the 10 minutes in silence is about asking God what’s on your heart, what do you need to share about,” he says. “The next 50 minutes is an opportunity to chat about anything.

 

“The people who have come along have – 100 per cent of the time – said it’s been really helpful for them. And they have felt like they’ve been heard.”

 

Like Sandra’s group, Bryce’s group shares a BYO meal in the park at the end of the walk, with the sharing of a meal together being an integral part of the ‘Walking Church’ model.

 

But … is it church?

 

“Is it the Church? What do we call it?” Sandra laughs when asked the question because she’s been asked it a thousand times. “I don’t know if I even want to stop and analyse it! It’s about giving people a way to encounter Jesus.”

 

She says that most people can agree that being the Church in our world is not about meeting at a certain time and in a certain format. “It’s about worship, it’s about prayer, it’s about community and learning from each other.

 

“It really is just an exploration of what it means to be the church rather than go to church. What it means to be a follower of Jesus, and what does that look like in our lives. We want to get to know the people that come and disciple one another in love.”

 

It’s early days for Walking Church, but the holy spirit is moving.

 

Sandra McLean’s ‘Generations and Faith’ steam is launching a Renewal Initiative where corps officers across Australia will be invited to join two cohorts for peer-to-peer learning and collaborative training on new missional ways of being church.

 

A ‘Walking Çhurch’ meets in Brisbane every fortnight.

 

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