I reflect on the 2023 CMS Summer School as someone who could only make it for one day. I wish I could have attended more, but I was overseas.[i] Yet, having landed in Sydney on the Monday of Summer School, I drove up to the Blue Mountains on Tuesday to attend for the day. It was definitely an experience; a combination of jet lag and the increased heart rate from walking up and down that hill – twice – after ten days of overeating over the holidays! And yet it was also an experience of being profoundly joyful and energised amongst fellow Christians. As I drove back home late on Tuesday night, I remember thinking multiple times that we just can’t take CMS Summer School for granted.
While I can’t comment on all of Vaughan Roberts’ talks on Hebrews (I only heard one talk), there is so much that Summer School achieves in injecting energy and clarity in missional thinking among reformed evangelical Christians in Sydney. This is more than just sitting under good teaching. It is the entire experience. Singing with over a thousand other Christians, praying for mission in Australia and overseas, hearing from new and experienced missionaries as they articulate their reasons for serving as they do, speaking to like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ during the informal time, praying for the spread of the gospel all over the world. On top of all this, there is also the joy and challenge of watching as Christians, young and old, serve each other in the car park, ushering and welcoming, serving coffee, working on the audio and video, and so much more.
I think this experience is invaluable because, in the most positive way, it transcends the maturity levels of individual Christians. For those who have been Christians for decades, and in some cases faithfully serving and supporting CMS for decades, this is a booster shot to begin the year and ministry: It is a chance to revel in encouraging Christian fellowship with yokefellows who have partnered in the ups and downs of life and ministry. It is a chance to spend quality time in meaningful conversation over coffee or a meal. It is a chance to exercise loving care through hearing the burdens of those who have struggled over the year with disappointments, losses, and heartaches. It is a chance to witness answers to prayer that may have been going on for over half a century. And of course, it is a chance to see that God continues to do his work of spreading his unstoppable gospel through clay jars like us, whom he continues to raise up for the full harvest.
Yet, Summer School also achieves something profoundly special for those who have come into relationship with the Lord Jesus more recently. There is a challenge and encouragement that can’t be overestimated in witnessing the critical mass of mission-minded evangelical Christians. Often our churches can feel small, and ministry can feel like a grind in infertile soil. It is so profoundly good, then, to see the great cloud of witnesses who are on Team Jesus in Sydney. It is so profoundly good to hear from those on the platform who speak plainly of the partnership with local churches and the mutual encouragement that comes from prayerfully uplifting and sustaining missionaries on the ground in countries where the gospel witness is otherwise non-existent. It is so profoundly good to have the time to weigh up Scripture with each other and prophesy to each other in response to talks where the Bible is faithfully expounded by tried and tested speakers. It is so profoundly good to have the time away with local church family, spending quality time together and reflecting on how what they are seeing might translate into church life throughout the year. And it is profoundly good to be challenged by the urgency and significance of gospel proclamation, such that it serves as a gentle rebuke for any hint of stagnancy in one’s own Christian walk.
For young and old, feeding on spiritual milk or having moved on to spiritual solid food, for legacy CMS supporters and for first-time enthusiasts, Summer School is one of the most significant events in the calendar year of any Christian in Sydney (and in a lot of cases, beyond!). Having spent only one day in Katoomba this year, I left challenged. I bought books that have caused me to think theologically. I prayed about my willingness and readiness for mission. I considered how I might serve the Lord in Sydney and beyond. I was energised to consider how our church could press on in gospel proclamation to every person in our patch. I remember as a student minister during my time at Moore College, being told of the importance of attending Summer School over and over again by my trainers. I thought I sort of understood why they kept pressing home the point. I didn’t. I’m not sure even now that I understand all of the reasons why it is so profoundly important. What I do know, even from seeing my Auburn & Newington Anglican Church family, is that Summer School (and the team involved in its organisation) has done a great service for all of us. I am actually excited, then, in forty years’ time (Lordwilling), to see how much more Summer School might positively shape my Christian walk.
[i] I had the privilege of officiating at my brother’s wedding in the Philippines, and then visiting family in Malaysia for the first time since well before Covid rocked international travel!