Churches offer social connection
In terms of high-density living a lot has changed in my nine years at St John’s. When I arrived, I was the only person who lived on Constitution Avenue. That changed with The Jamieson and ISKIA Apartments.
The C5 Apartments on Anzac Parade, opposite St John’s, are rapidly going up. The publicity blurb says, ‘The new Campbell 5 precinct exemplifies the village lifestyle… it is designed as a destination precinct and home for the wider Canberra community… stroll along the bluestone paved streets and you’ll find retail stores, galleries, boutique hoteliers and alfresco dining spaces that are inviting to passers-by.’
However, high-density living may not necessarily mean a greater sense of community – it may even detract from it.
Toni Hassan, who is a writer and a research fellow at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, recently wrote an article in the Canberra Times titled, The downside to high-density living in Canberra.
In the article, she referred to a person named Jemma (not her real name), who is a resident of a new high-rise apartment. ‘No one talks to each other,’ she said. She moved to the inner city for convenience. Her move from Canberra's fringe didn't come cheap.
“The closer people get to each other, the less they can like being with each other. Prophetic urban sociologist Richard Sennett says dense cities become overly orchestrated spaces, reflecting a fear of social contact and the threat of ‘exposure’.
“The image of the good life becomes "fenced, gated, guarded", where it is hard to have contact with people who are different. Canberra, famed for its friendliness, risks becoming like everywhere else.”
As I reflect on the changes that are happening around St John’s I’ve been asking myself the question: What have we got to offer people in this changing environment?
In this individualistic age where people are searching for social connection churches stand out more strongly as an option. Faith communities can provide a place for people to come together in a communal way.
One of the striking features of the earliest church is the sense of shared life. There are many accounts of Christians meeting with one another and expressing their faith collectively. Paul's letters were addressed mainly to Christian communities. The Lord's Prayer is a shared prayer: 'Our Father...'
This has a missionary purpose. God is revealed in relationships more than through individuals acting on their own. The image of God was given to the man and the woman together, as they related to one another (Genesis 1.26-27). Christian communities are to model relationships that non-believers find attractive.
Jesus told his disciples, ‘the harvest is plentiful’. There is a whole world of people who are searching for something more – for belonging and community – where people ignore the spiritual aspect of our beings at their peril.
Archbishop Justin Welby says church growth is about Christians imitating God by reaching out to others and drawing them into relationship with Christ and our shared life.