Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods

Editorial, Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, October 17-18, 2014, Urban Seed. Published online November 12, 2015.


The catalyst for Urban Seed’s first conference came from Ash Barker, co-founder of Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH) and 2014 “scholar in residence” at Urban Seed. The conference which followed in October 2014, Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, took on the personality of both Ash Barker and Urban Seed itself. We knew that if we wanted a diversity of voices to be heard, we would have to do some solid shoulder-tapping and encouraging. The two day conference hosted a great range of conversations, under the general banner of “urban mission.”

Early on we asked ourselves, “Is this a conference for academics or for practitioners?” “Is this a conference for Christians or for a broader audience?” These were questions that were never resolved one way or the other, and while the result was not exactly neat, it was certainly very enriching. One recurring comment was, “We are having conversations here that we are not able to have elsewhere.” It is this “hosting” role that Urban Seed has historically been able to do so well, by providing a space for unlikely friends to meet. One thing we are particularly proud of is the significant number of woman and emerging authors and presenters, for whom the conference and publication has created space. It was also wonderful to welcome people from across Australia and from New Zealand, stretching beyond Melbourne to include urban centres such as Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Auckland.

We decided to create a publication from the conference, and what follows represents a great deal of work from authors, editors and reviewers, as well as, no doubt, input from family, friends and co-workers. Since the conference itself was a mix of both scholars and practitioners (and perhaps some scholar-practitioners), some of the authors who present their thoughts in this volume have not published before. It is a great privilege to offer space for these emerging reflexive practitioners. We made a decision to publish exclusively online in an open access system, not only in order to keep costs down, but also to offer our authors’ thoughts to an audience wider than the academy. We note also that many more people presented papers and case studies than are represented in this publication.

Each of our authors presents their thoughts on urban mission in unique and diverse ways. Lucy Allan kicks us off with a challenging piece, asking whether our mission work can in fact be an outworking of a dominant “hero” narrative, which places some in the role of “saviours” and others in the role of “victims.” Ian Bedford provides a helpful framework for understanding the processes by which congregations establish community services, and questions the inevitability of a common trend for services to “professionalise” and decouple from the church community. Matt Bell reflects on his work at the Indigenous Hospitality House in Melbourne, and reminds us of important Christian practices that can help us to live well on stolen Indigenous land. Cosimo Chiera and Tom Edwards present a simple mathematical model for the assessment of community interventions, using the Children’s Koori Court as an example. Karl Hand explores the idea of “stigma” as a social identity, applied with biblical (New Testament) theology to the LGBT-affirming church and beyond.

Lauren Hayes questions why people with disabilities are often seen in the church as “objects” of charity, and develops a biblical theology of disability inclusion. Gabriel Hingley of UNOH applies the I-Thou philosophy of Martin Buber and his reflections on the Gospel of John in order to understand the dignity of each person, in the context of his own neighbourhood mission work. Greg Manning supplies us with some tools to unpack the stories behind place names, by analysing them as oft-forgotten memorials to the past, encouraging us to recover these meanings in order to learn some of the “creation stories” of our cities. Lynne Taylor outlines ways in which older people can resource churches and vice-versa, while Steve Taylor shows us how gardening provides rich learnings for the way we inhabit our neighbourhoods. In the last of the article-length pieces, Andre Van Eymeren shows us how developing relationships through the frameworks of Relational Proximity and Asset Based Community Development can help us discover the hidden “gold” of the lives of people who inhabit our neighbourhoods.

Following these papers are four illuminating case studies. Michael Blumel draws out important life lessons from his experience of local neighbourhood engagement with people seeking asylum. John Catmur, Jo Wieland and George Wieland reflect on their prayer-led community engagement at Mangere Baptist Church in Auckland. Jude Waldron provides a wonderful reflection on her work at Armadale Baptist Church, a church in a neighbourhood with stories of hidden and unexpected poverty.  Greg Manning follows his paper with a reflection upon songs which illustrate the urbanisation of the land which now supports the city of Brisbane.

We have many people to thank. Thank you, Ash Barker, for initiating the event, drawing upon his wide networks and helping in many other ways. Thank you, Darren Cronshaw, for helping to shape the event, developing the call for papers and facilitating a “stream” of the conference presentations. Thanks to our other stream facilitators who assisted me (Andreana Reale) in this task: Ken Luscombe, Greg Gow and David Wilson. Thanks to Les Colston for his excellent design work. Thanks to Caitlyn Bosch for her admirable work in event organising. Many thanks also to our brilliant and critically-needed volunteers, Stefanie Pierce and Ellie Khoo, as well as the teams from Collins Street Baptist Church, Life* Expedition church and beyond. Thanks to all our courageous speakers and presenters. Thanks also to everybody who helped out in any other way, and to everybody who came to listen and participate. Thank you, Arrow on Swanston and Collins Street Baptist Church, for the use of some great venues. Thanks to our reviewers who took the time to read over our authors’ work, and to discuss with us how the best might be drawn out of the potential of each: Samara Pitt, Nathan Nettleton, Katherine Dobson, Peter Woodruff, Rosemary Canavan and Cath McKinney.

And finally, we, the editors, rest in the satisfaction of knowing the hard work each one of you has put into this conference and into this publication, Urban Life Together. We hope you enjoy reading these excellent contributions to reflective praxis of urban mission.

Towards shalom,

Andreana Reale and Steven Tucker

November 2015


Image: Les Colston