A Tale of Two Kingdoms
2014 is a milestone year for the TrueCity movement, marking a decade of working in Hamilton to see churches together for the good of the city. And the sense of expectation and excitement that was present as people filed into the sanctuary of Philpott Memorial Church for this year’s conference was just as strong a decade in, it seemed, as if the whole thing had just begun.
Soon after everyone had taken a seat, the lights were turned off, and the space lit up by a series of photographs that remained projected throughout the weekend. Participants also submitted their own pictures, capturing a glimpse of the people and places where God was seen to be at work.
As the evening began, there was just one question in the air: what does it mean, and, beyond that, what does it look like to be part of a kingdom that has come near, is coming, and yet is not of this world?
For Jeff Strong, associate pastor of Grindstone Church in Waterdown, it meant digging into the ancient story of the Tower of Babel. He opened the conference Friday night with a talk demonstrating how that massive structure, built of bricks, stood as a symbol of the kingdoms of this world. In contrast, he said, the people who belonged to the kingdom of God were told to only use stone for their building projects. The practices that mark the people of God – now known as living stones – set us at odds, he explained, with the practices of the world.
On Saturday morning, Leanne Friesen spoke, sharing from the perspective of Israel’s exile experience. Living in the tension of being at home, and yet not at home, she explained, was part of the distinctiveness of life in the kingdom for the people of Israel, as well as life in the kingdom today. Sharing moving examples from her own experience during journey thus far as pastor at Mount Hamilton Baptist Church, she made a case for why we can still find hope in the sort of songs that were sung in that time.
Following her talk, everyone who had gathered did just that, joining in with the talented musicians who lead the group in song over the course the weekend. Even those who were not familiar with, or don’t usually sing the hymns that were chosen were struck by the noise that filled that space when they were sung.
People were able to engage further with these themes throughout the course of the day Saturday by means of a number of workshops. Creation care, human trafficking, technology, and the arts were all on the table for discussion. These sessions had attendees looking back to the worlds of Scripture and church history and forward at new possibilities for the church both locally and globally. Aside from the opportunity to learn something new, participants appreciated the chance to engage with both members of other churches and the many presenters who had come.
There were points of tension, where those present were reminded of the reality that working towards a place of unity is difficult and often messy work. Despite many theological, political, and socio-economic differences that threaten to cause division, however, attendees were, and continue to be drawn together by practices of worship and prayer, a desire to learn, a commitment to work for the greater good of the city of Hamilton, and shared citizenship in the kingdom of God.
It was in that spirit that participants gathered one last time, and then went their separate ways until the next time they run into each other, if not, Lord willing, the conference next year.