Urban Seed History
In 1987 Collins Street Baptist Church (CSBC)
began to ask itself a new question: what does it mean to be church in
the unique neighbourhood of the city centre? Guided by the long and
careful work of the Rev'd Ron Ham, CSBC began to explore themes of
regeneration and urban mission, seeking the ideas of those such as the Rev'd Tim Costello,
from an inner-city church in St Kilda. In 1990 CSBC appointed Rev'd Jim
Barr to come and further develop their approach to urban
mission. In 1993, closely supported by Ron Ham and Peter Chapman from
the nearby City Life mission, Jim took the initiative of establishing
what was then called the Urban Mission Unit (now Urban Seed).
initial ideas for the work of Urban Seed began with a professional and
academic approach to mission. It was envisaged that Urban Seed would
conduct research and training with a focus around Australian culture
and urban spirituality. Some of the important work established during
this time were the Seeds Program of discipleship formation, City Walks
and experiential Mission Exposures.
community at Central House was established in 1995 when three interns moved
into the old Collins Street Baptist Church property officers' residence
on level 9. Residency would come to play the major part in the
development of the practice and ethos of Urban Seed. In the same year,
Tim Costello was appointed as the new Director of Urban Seed, which was
another critical factor in the evolving character of Urban Seed's work.
first internship was constructed around the ideas of a 'monastic'
rhythm of life: 12 hours in mission, 12 hours studying (Seeds and
external tertiary) and 12 hours work doing property duties around the church building for a small salary each week. Inspired by the example of Peter
Chapman's 17-year ministry through 'City Life' at the Presbyterian church next door, these first interns spent much of their time walking
the streets of Melbourne meeting people. After three months they invited
friends they had made to join them in their house for lunch. This
formed the basis of the community's open
lunch time which has run ever since, and which is now held in 'Credo Cafe'.
Over the coming years interns joined
with Tim Costello in helping others to discern the
spiritual nature of the city through walks and public speaking. Out of
this discernment a prayer vigil of public witness and protest was
organised outside the then recently opened Crown Casino. These were the community's
early attempts to breathe new life into an old and
proud tradition of public engagement of Collins Street Baptist Church.
1995 and 2009 more than 70 people have come to live at Central House, and
each year residents have built upon these early initiatives. Since 1995 the residential community, has developed in a myriad of ways, and yet many of
the early elements remain the same:
- relational presence in the inner city;
- the discipline of hospitality, sharing meals and living space in the church building;
- 'growing' home with those considered least;
- discernment walks and public speaking;
- public liturgy and protest;
- exploring Christian community;
- balancing work, study and mission;
- common work in and around the building.
1999 Urban Seed and the residential community decided to understand and
organise itself around four themes that had emerged from its history.
These were Spirituality, Mission, Community, and Learning. These four
elements formed a 'rule' that directed the life and rhythm of the
community. It aimed to create space to help the community to reflect
theologically and maintain its focus on the movement toward Christ.
Each of these four elements are explored through stories which are
important to the community.
In late 2001, the Urban
Mission Unit became Urban Seed. The name 'Urban Seed' holds the organic
work of building community in tension with the concrete context of
urban life. It stems from the conviction that the things that really
give life in this world must be grown. The work of making meaningful
connections between people, restoring relationships of love and
justice, caring for the earth, and discovering spiritual life, all
require nurture. None of these things can be imposed or artificially
The image of seeds is a descriptive tool
which Jesus of Nazareth drew upon often. In particular it teaches us
the unrecognised significance and potential of small things ("The
Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed ..." Mark 4:41); it reminds us
that we are limited, and that we must rely on God and the earth ("the seed would sprout and grow, and the sower does not
know how..." Mark 4:26-29); and it urges us to sow widely in search of 'good soil' ("A sower went out to sow..." Mark 4:3-9).
the metaphor of a seed captures the mystery that all motion towards
life in this world - the real work of reconciliation and justice -
requires us to die to ourselves ("Unless a grain of wheat falls to the
ground and dies, it remains only a single seed", John 12:24). Urban
Seed reflects a commitment to the patient work of nurturing life. This
work is modest in its scope and its value is often unrecognised, but is
perhaps the most important work of all.
bless the grass That grows through the crack, They roll the concrete
over it, To try to keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has
to do, It breaks and buckles and the grass grows through. And God bless