For husband-and-wife team Mark and Mary Hurst, ministry is not reserved for the inside of a worship hall or for within an organizational structure.
Ministry can take place in a garden or at the ocean. It can happen while knitting a baby blanket. It can be as simple as offering advice about raising children.
“For us, it is ‘loving God and our neighbors as ourselves,’” Mark said. “So building relationships with people through gardening, ocean swimming, and knitting is as important to us as leading worship, doing Bible study, and teaching about peace and justice.”
Since 1990, the Hursts have served as resource people and pastors in Australia with the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand (AAANZ). They began as mission associates with Mennonite Mission Network in 2000, and have been living in Mona Vale NSW (Sydney), Australia, since 2008. The Hursts build networks, conduct workshops on conflict transformation, and provide services to members and others interested in Anabaptism. They are also part-time pastors at Avalon Baptist Peace Memorial Church in Avalon, a beachside community in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Their approach to ministry is simply about cultivating community.
The Hursts engage their neighbors through gardening or helping to paint their homes, or watching a sports event together on television in their living room. Whatever the activity, conversations in which the topic might start with the day’s weather often lead to deeper discussions of faith.
“We try to build relationships with people and let our lives and words reflect Jesus and what it means to follow him,” Mark said. “We believe that 1 Peter chapter 3 got it right when it says if we live a Christian life before others, it will attract attention and questions, and then with ‘gentleness and respect’ we are to talk about the ‘hope within us.’”
Much of their hope has been directed at building a small Anabaptist community within their neighborhood where they could model the Gospels. They call it the “1643 Community;” the name growing out of their local street address. “We want to be an incarnational presence right where we live,” Mark said.
They obtained two buildings on the property, and residents moved in. However, the local city council recently informed the Hursts that the number of people living there violates city codes.
“It was meant to be a place of hospitality and learning with space for retreats and small workshops,” Mary said. “Often when we travel and speak places, we get asked questions about Anabaptism and a faith community. Folks then ask, ‘So, what does it look like? Where can we see this happening?’ 1643 was an attempt to have such a place, a community to visit and experience.”
Naturally, the Hursts are disappointed, but they still believe that God is in control.
“We know that if the dream of an Anabaptist community or place of hospitality, retreat and training is to be fulfilled, God can arrange it,” Mary said. “Our positive attitudes have offered many opportunities to speak of the hope that is within us.
The Hursts recently attended Passionfest 2013, a New Zealand gathering of more than 400 people in ministries that are focused particularly on serving people in need. AAANZ was among the sponsoring organizations in order to have regular contact with some of the New Zealand members of AAANZ.
“The ministry of Mark and Mary Hurst as pastoral workers for the Anabaptist Association since the mid-1990s has been essential to the development of Anabaptism as a movement and network in Australia and New Zealand,” said Doug Sewell, AAANZ’s president. “Their personal devotion and extraordinary effort, as well as willingness to travel as pastors and teachers, has resulted in widespread interest in the Anabaptist core convictions of radical discipleship, community, restorative justice, and peace-building.”
The Hursts were on a Passionfest panel where they discussed raising children.
Because their children, Matthew, Micah and Moriah, are grown, the Hursts are often asked about raising children, homeschooling, and taking their children along to do ministry or service.
“We are viewed as elders at this event that draws mostly young adults,” Mary said. “We spend a lot of time talking with people and answering questions they raise about issues like Anabaptism, community, raising children, conflict, how to interpret or read scripture, and peace and justice.”
“Whether it is teaching the Bible, hosting guests, training mediators, or facilitating workshops on discipleship themes, the Hursts have become key people for anyone thirsty for the Anabaptist vision,” said Tim Foley, Mennonite Mission Network director for International Ministries, Europe and Australia.