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Easter Vigil: A Testimony

This post is an abridged version of the testimony given by one of our Parish Council members, Lia Ray, during our Easter Sunday Worship Service on the 12th of April this year.

My favourite Christian liturgy is the Easter vigil, and this year I feel deeply saddened by not being part of one. I first experienced this liturgy as a seventeen-year-old, celebrated by a priest who had a huge impact on my spiritual life and passed away only three weeks ago. So, feeling an absence this year due to the isolation caused by COVID-19, I have found myself reflecting on that Easter experience and what it meant to me.

It was held by multiple parishes and run largely by my youth group. My friends were the readers, the musicians and communion ministers. It was an outdoor mass held in Lower Plenty at Amberly Retreat Centre, which is at the peak of a hill and overlooks the Yarra River and Westerfolds Park. It’s beautiful and so very peaceful. The service, most shockingly for a very non-morning person, started at 5:00am. I had to set several alarms to ensure I got there on time.

The service started in complete darkness, our only light came from the torches we held in our shivering hands as we to struggled to read the music and not play our instruments flat. The liturgy started around a bonfire lit by Father Peter and, suddenly, there was light and warmth. He would lean in and with a very long taper and light the Pascal candle. We would all then light the candles in our own hands, which lit the way as we walked down to the courtyard, praying as we went. I remember watching the fire move as we passed the light of Christ to one another. What was once a cold and dark place was slowly being filled with light. Each person’s face, once hidden in darkness, became visible. A path that seemed impassable and filled with obstacles was shown to be safe. Slowly we all made our way down to the courtyard where, if we were very lucky and the weather fine, just as the communion wafer was raised and blessed the sun would rise over the tree line and light would cover us all, just as we celebrated the rising of Jesus from the tomb. It was magical.

Right now the whole world is filled with fear and worry, and not without reason. We are all suffering in some way, feeling the pain of physical isolation, loss of employment or income, unsure of what tomorrow will bring. We are all being forced to dramatically change the way we live our lives. I hear, in the voices of those I talk to, the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Kids slowly going crazy by being house bound, unsure how school is going to look, and parents terrified of failing at work or in educating their children. People who leave the house for work afraid of what they will bring home to those they care about. Grandparents not able to spoil or hug their grandkids. Friends not able to get together. Sport and clubs closed and a feeling of losing social connection. If this rings true to you, no matter how you are feeling at the moment, you are not alone in this and this is my first symbol of hope to us all.

Hope starts small, it starts in enjoying the time with your family, in those precious moments that we are normally too busy to notice. Hope is in the delivery driver bringing food to our homes, or the truck drivers moving food around the nation. Hope is in the work of everyone who is now working at home and still are managing to do their jobs. Hope is seen by those working in our supermarkets and pharmacies, who are bearing the brunt of stressed people and yet still showing grace. Hope is being shown by those who are working in our charities meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, because COVID-19 affects all people. Hope is in hospital staff all around the world working harder and longer than ever before, dealing with despair and not giving up. Hope is in the ingenuity of medical researchers searching for treatments and vaccines. Hope is politicians putting aside political differences and working together for the good of all Australians. Hope can be found as our church finds a new way to gather. Hope is found in giving yourself permission to not be perfect at this time, to have bad days, to sometimes feel lost or bored or overwhelmed, and yet get through the day. Hope is in us forgiving each other when those around us are struggling and helping when we can. Hope is found in us praying and being with each other.

Each of these is just like another candle being lit at the Easter Vigil. Another piece of hope shining out as light and overcoming the darkness of fear and loss. Another piece showing us the way forward. So I encourage you to be light to each other. To be friends to those around you and ask for help when you are lost. To pass that glimmer of hope on to one another until we have the bonfire blazing with light.

As Christians we have a gift of hope, believing that even in the darkest of days, in suffering, in pain, and even in death, there is always hope. This morning we are celebrating that Jesus overcame death and gave the world hope. He is the sunrise over the hill I remember from when I was seventeen. He shines a light upon us in our despair. The sunrise may not yet be here in the fight against COVID-19, in many ways we are all still in the darkness and may be for some time. But I have my candle lit and I have hope in tomorrow.


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Additional Note
What We Believe

We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God and inerrant in the original writings. We believe that there is one God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

We believe that the lost and sinful man must be saved, and that man’s only hope of redemption is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We believe in and practice the holy ordinance of water baptism, which signifies the believer’s death, burial, and resurrection into new life with Christ Jesus, and the regular celebration of Holy Communion as commanded by our Lord.

We believe in the present ministry and baptism of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a Godly life. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the unsaved; those that are saved into the resurrection of life and those that are unsaved into the resurrection of damnation.

We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our History

In recognition of the tremendous growth forecast for the Plenty Valley, Bishop Stephen Hale set up a Taskforce in 2007 to investigate the possibility of establishing a new Anglican community in the area. With representation from local churches and Ivanhoe Grammar School, this Taskforce developed a plan that included the need for a point person to further the work. In response to this, two years ago St John’s Diamond Creek took a great step of faith by employing a staff member to not only serve its own congregation but to focus on establishing a new parish for Mernda. Craig spent his first year getting to know the area, building relationships and discerning what God was already up to in His mission of reaching residents and retailers with His love. Throughout the following year a core team began to form around a vision that arose again and again through prayer, of a red gum taking root in the heart of Mernda and growing while the roots reached out to every corner of the community. This vision of being organic church integrally connected to local community found a means of expression through the “Sheffield Model”, which was first developed by St Thomas’s in Sheffield (UK) nearly 15 years ago.

With a focus on “missional communities” the Sheffield model emphasises the need for Christians to meet with people in their own world rather than expecting them to enter ours. After spending time with the staff of St Thomas’s, Craig and the team began work on adapting the model for our own local context and subsequently launched two playgroups in the second half of 2010. A missional community has also begun forming around crafts and the creative arts which runs a stall at the Laurimar market to raise money for various causes. Three preview services were also held as God continued to draw people into the Plentylife community.

We now launch with a much clearer vision of who God wants us to be, a five-strong leadership team with responsibilities for missional communities, youth, families, and administration, and leadership for three missional communities focused on families, crafts and the creative arts and the outdoor life. And it’s true that we wouldn’t be at this point today if it wasn’t for the generous support of the Diocese, St Johns and other supporting churches! So now together we look forward to what else God might have in store for us according to His grace.