Why is it so difficult for us from different churches to work in unity for a purpose other than a National Disaster or a crisis of some sort?
As Christians we often talk about unity, send out calls for unity, but making it happen is not so easy. Psalm 133 verse 1 says How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. Then in verse 3 it says For there the Lord bestows His blessings, even life evermore. And in Romans 15 verse 5 Paul says May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves …. So why is it so difficult?
I had the opportunity to go to Mackay a few years ago and do a series of interviews about Mackay’s National Day of Thanks Free Family Festival that was held each year for about 10 to 12 years. I was able to interview the Mayor, the radio station breakfast show DJs, the Federal Member for Dawson and several Pastors who formed part of the Mackay Churches Together organising committee. Their stories and comments may challenge our concepts and what we may think Unity is about.
Martine Mahler was the coordinator of the National Day of Thanks for the Mackay Churches Together. She had worked hard for more than 10 years organising and linking with churches to make the day a success and a blessing to the city of Mackay. She talked a little about her journey as the coordinator.
“The National Day of Thanks Festival was the largest event in Mackay that the churches did together and it was free. It was a wonderful event that brought together about 30 Churches and Christian organisations to bless our city. From a personal perspective it has been a work in progress and I understood from the beginning that God was doing a deeper work of unity amongst the churches in Mackay. There have been phases that God has brought us through. He has taught us, through this Day, that He wants us to create a culture of Thanks-Living by becoming a community of practise.”
The festival was organised in conjunction with the Mackay Regional Council, and the then Mayor, Deidre Comerford spoke about the importance of the festival to the community and how the combined churches’ involvement was important to goals of the Council.
"One of the goals of council is to create a community spirit and civic pride and an event like the National Day of Thanks does just that. It is an opportunity for the whole Church in the city to engage with the community and witness fellowship, friendship and kindness to others. And you never know what that could mean to someone doing it tough. There are families who would not be able to go on an outing because of hardship and with this festival being free it is a great opportunity for them. I guess if an event is free it is the only way it is fair and equitable for all the community.”
The Catholic Parish Priest, Peter Tonti, describes his first experience with the National Day of Thanks festival. “When I arrived in Mackay some years ago I went to the festival because I thought it one of those duty things. But, when I saw the colour and spirit and so many people doing so many things, I saw this was the Churches working together under one God and it really inspired me personally.”
Pastor Ken Wigglesworth was asked what he thought was important about the Festival.
“The community sees the Church as fragmented with all different names and it can be confusing for them. Here in Mackay is an event where we do not put on our badges, the community sees us as one. What holds it together for the Christians and the community is that we are not just talking about unity, we are doing it and blessing our community and enjoying each other’s company immensely.”
As I spent time with these Pastors from often very different churches I had to agree with one of the Pastor’s comments when he said that “Getting out and doing something together shows us that we really do love each other and really do like working together.” One of the personal impacts expressed by another Pastor is that “doing life can be hard sometimes and coming together just lifts the spirit and encourages each other in our walk, in just doing life”.
The Mackay Churches Together highlights one of the great challenges of unity in a city. That is to work past our differences and showcase to the community that we serve one God who is kind and merciful. Unity showcases Christianity for what it is. “It’s a gift and a gift with love”. The concept of Thanks-Living is really about living and acting with gratitude and giving in our hearts in a world that is becoming more angry, more disconnected and more dysfunctional.
The National Day of Thanks is not just about one Day a year. It is also about creating a thankful heart in our Nation. It’s about a way of life, of living thankfully. And on that one day a year we got to stand together as God’s people not seeking to get anything in return or to gain members, but to just be a blessing to our community, to honour those who are our local heroes and to demonstrate the love of the one true God we all serve.
So what does unity mean to you? How can you demonstrate that “we really do love each other and really do like working together” to be a blessing to those around us?
Robert J Burman