Tuesday Talks with Nicole Conner.
Nicole Conner was born in Hamburg, Germany. An only child, her parents moved to South Africa when she was 7. Living in apartheid-ridden South Africa through the 70’s deeply affected her life narrative and continues to inform her worldview today. It was in South Africa that Nicole became a follower of Jesus. Today she is married to Mark, the senior minister of CityLife Church, a mega church in Melbourne, where she was on staff as an associate minister for 14 years. She is the mother of 3 and has acquired 2 gorgeous daughters-in-law. Nicole loves animals, coffee, wine, her garden, bushwalking, books and occasionally people. She has a Bachelor in Theology and just completed her Masters in History.
Nicole thank you for taking the time to join us on Tuesday Talks. Nicole you were an Associate Minister at CityLife Church in Melbourne. CityLife is a pentecostal mega church in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne Australia. You were once on staff at CityLife for 14 years.
Lisa: Nicole many people struggled to understand your resignation and your moving out of a senior staff role at CityLife Church. I know this was done with great consideration and prayer. Can you explain your reasons for this?
Nicole: I had felt unsettled for sometime. There were many factors that contributed to my resignation as Associate Minister at CityLife. Primarily, I found that I was getting exhausted in a constant Christian/People environment. Now that may seem hilarious for some (especially extroverts who would thrive in this space). But I am an introvert and I also enjoy diversity –both these factors played into my growing feeling that my time is up in the ‘fishbowl’ of church staff.
Secondly, I think I just craved change. I had been on staff for over 14 years and I am by nature more of a pioneer. I longed for new frontiers and to again place myself in spaces that were totally out of my comfort zone…I managed to do that. Thirdly, I think I was never comfortable about the emphasis on leadership in the wider Christendom world. I think CityLife is pretty chilled when it comes to leaders, titles, etc – yet, I still found the limelight of religious leadership and expectations, exhausting.
Lisa: Any change is painful especially when it involves other people’s expectations and connections to community, five years down the track how do you feel about that transition?
Nicole: I felt I made the right decision and am very grateful. However, it was a most painful transition – it came with a great sense of loss, and the grief was at times quite overwhelming. People did not always understand this decision and I had some interesting conversations and feedback about what people had said/thought. Transitions and change always consist of dark forest moments: not sure about tomorrow, doubting yourself, a dying to self – and then comes that place of letting go, shalom.
Lisa: You have seen many changes in the Pentecostal church movement over the last 25 years, what would you say has been one of the most significant changes?
Nicole: Good question. Perhaps one of the most significant has been the move from the margins to more mainstream acceptance amongst institutional church. Over the last few years I have also noticed that at least on some levels Pentecostalism has recognised & recovered its roots (p#overty/margins) and is again embracing the poor and marginalised through various ministries. My prayer is that this move will continue into a more incarnational/community embrace and not simply fade because it was a trend or seen as ‘politically correct’.
Lisa: Great answer. What issues do you think the institutionalised church will need to grapple with in the next 25 years?
Nicole: The church will have to grapple on a much deeper level on what the Gospel means to the LGBTI Christians, and how it will embrace this community that is currently widely marginalised. The suffering and plight of marginalised LGBTI Christians should concern the church and it needs to recognize that it has played a rather major role of oppressor through the disdain it has shown to sexual minorities. (The National LGBTI Health Alliance uses “LGBTI” as a recognisable acronym to collectively refer to a group of identities that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans/transgender and intersex people and other sexuality, and gender diverse people, regardless of their term of self-identification).
“The church will also have to grapple with Islam and what it means to truly ‘love my Muslim neighbour’. In the light of extremism and the bizarre reaction of some corners of Christendom to ‘war’ !
I suggest we take a moment to again read the radical words of Jesus. Only love can bring healing, peace and reconciliation. Prejudice and fear never have and never will change anything, only radical, sacrificial love can do that. I hope that in times of tension and marginalisation the church can rise up in grace, kindness and welcome – maybe this time we can prove history wrong.”
Lastly, I think the church will need to look at its methodology. A new generation speaks a different language when it comes to expression of church and faith – I think the church needs to consider these dynamics and provide different spaces and at times a different approach to how it expresses itself as a community of faith.
Lisa: We are living in an era of unprecedented change and are being subjected to global issues on a daily basis, on a more personal note – what issues are breaking your heart at the moment?
Nicole: O Boy! Where to start? Maybe here at home – I am deeply grieved at the direction the last few governments have taken in policy and attitude to asylum seekers. It is beyond belief to think that right now, while we drink coffee and complain about shopping centres at Christmas time, over 700 children are kept in concentration-camp-like detention. The love for the stranger has never been a very strong point in Australian colonial history. Australia needs to ‘grow up’ and understand that we are facing an unprecedented global crisis as millions of people are displaced by conflict and natural disasters. If Australian wants global recognition it needs to shoulder global responsibility.
I am also very concerned about the crisis of domestic violence. On average, one woman a week looses her life because of family violence – this is a horrific stat – something needs to change systemically and ideologically.
I am also concerned about the way our planet is raped and pillaged through greed. There is no regard or understanding of fragile eco systems or the plight of our global neighbor driven by wealth and consumerism of developed countries. It is not taught in churches – and Pentecostalism, with its often apocalyptic “Jesus is coming back any moment” worldview has not in any way developed a strong eco theology.
Lisa: In a YouTube message 27 January 2009, Richard Rohr talks about the ’emerging church’. He says that those in the emerging church gratefully have a foot in both camps. One in the mother church or traditional church and one in the ‘now church’ or the emerging church that broadens, deepens and grounds the traditional message.
What are your thoughts on this?
Nicole: I appreciate the thoughts and teachings of Richard Rohr – ‘Falling Upwards’ is one of my favourite books of his. I think he is spot on when he talks about the conversations that come from the emerging church as broadening, deepening and grounding the tradition message. I like the both/and approach – we need wholistic conversations – traditional/institutional and emerging. I think the emerging church’s emphasis can be of great help to those who are disillusioned with church and/or faith, and I think the institutional church brings that sense of security of conversations and traditions steeped in history. We need both.
Lisa: Richard Rohr says that the emerging church is not as obsessed with who is going to hell, instead he poses these four questions that he believes are important and I’d like to ask you the same questions.
1: What are you in love with?
The scandal of Grace.
2: What do you believe in?
Jesus – his life, death & Resurrection.
3: What is the heaven that you have already discovered?
The rhythm and beauty of nature speaks to me of a God who loves the world – here and now.
4: What good thing do you need to share?
That we are God’s beloved.
Nicole, thank you very much my dear friend. You continue to stretch and challenge and push the boundaries. You are indeed a gift to the community. You are a pioneer, you are a Christ follower and you are an inspiration to many including me. We will be hearing again from Nicole on Sunday Everyday. Stay tuned. Love Lisa.
Rohr, R. (2001) Falling Upward, Barnes and Noble to order click on the Image:
Featured Image by Jiri Dvorski