Churches and Community Building
There are many Australian stories where ministry grows by engaging with partners and connecting with others in the community. Churches have found new ways to provide hospitality and contribute to community bonding and growing neighbourhood networks. Congregations become instruments for building social capital by joining with others in partnerships, creating and developing community life by ensuring that their buildings and sites are places where residents meet and discover others who care and affirm the gifts that all bring to the table.
Over the past forty years I have followed with interest the mission activity of a small congregation inner city congregation, the South Sydney UC. Members became fed up with the biased reporting and dearth of a good public newspaper and felt it was important to cover some of the major issues affecting community life and they produced a simple free photocopied newsletter. This ministry has grown and they now distribute a monthly broadsheet local newspaper and web site, The South Sydney Herald, to 25,000 households. https://southsydneyherald.com.au/
To celebrate their 200th edition in December 2021 federal member for Sydney Tanya Plibersek writes, “Congratulations to the SSH on their milestone 200th edition! The SSH consistently delivers on their commitment to provide independent, high-quality journalism with a focus on local issues, politics and social justice. They amplify the voices of our community, telling stories, celebrating success and sharing concerns of people who mainstream publications often overlook. It’s not just a newspaper, it is an essential service for our community. I’d like to thank all the writers, photographers, editors, illustrators, the delivery workers and everyone who makes this paper happen.”
Many UC congregations are working hard in becoming a second home for those living isolated lives. One of churches in the inner southern suburban area of the Adelaide has extended its ministry though the Effective Living Centre. The centre provides a range of events, forums, poetry nights and promotes community arts. Our primary purpose is to promote living effectively in our present time and creating partnerships with members of the wider community who identify with achieving the aims of the ELC. We seek to enlighten and empower people to take responsibility for advancing our society towards the common good. We are open to all people regardless of any social, political or religious persuasion. https://effectiveliving.ucasa.org.au/
In the north-west region of Adelaide the Port Adelaide UC has contributed to community bonding by planting a community garden, being involved in recycling projects and artwork through a wall mural. Through the Bent Pine community garden we promote ‘green-ness’ in small, urban spaces. We grow and teach the growing of healthy organic food for those who can least afford it. We believe that it is important in how we deal with waste. We therefore make use of local resources (e.g. plane tree leaves, garden material, and organic waste from partners such as the Red Lime Café) to recycle and compost. Members continue to support the Junction Community Centre Ottoway, one of the city’s most disadvantaged suburbs and for 40 years has adapted its shop front ministry in St Vincent St for community use.. http://portadelaide.unitingchurch.org.au/
In the eastern suburbs Clayton Wesley church at the top of Norwood Parade is known as the Spire Community, a Place of Welcome. The Spire Community is a joint collaboration between the Clayton Wesley Uniting Church and Uniting Communities Eastern Services. Together, we’ve become a community of helpers, collaborators, social support seekers, arts enthusiasts, music buffs, creative types, bargain hunters, volunteers, and spiritual revellers. The projects and activities we develop aim to promote inclusivity and welcome.
These projects include: Our Jesus was a Refugee campaign aims to educate the wider community about the difficulties refugees and new arrivals face and assists them to meet new people and settle into their new community. Hope’s Café is a cafe in Hope Hall with an aim to provide food and conversation to members of our community who are seeking companionship and assistance. Hope’s Café serves great food and great coffee. Open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays between 11:00am and 3:00pm (food 11:00am to 2:00pm). From 11am on Fridays, it offers free English language classes and conversation for new arrivals and other members of our community who need language assistance. https://claytonwesley.org.au/
In the Adelaide hills Blackwood UC, at the roundabout, is more than a Sunday church. One of its many weekday activities is its community classes. We have a commitment to provide friendship and fun through craft, fitness and learning in a caring community environment. Our classes are held both morning and afternoons on Wednesday and Thursdays during school terms. We have many classes on offer this year, so come and learn something new or hone a skill you already have. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, or even if you are just learning… everyone is welcome! https://blackwooduc.org.au/
Other examples of community building are evident when local congregations make connection to national social justice issues. Some years ago, at the height of the refugee crisis, many SA congregations supported the Circles of Friends movement and these groups were to the fore in providing hospitality and in campaigning to change government policies. Many churches now provide a home and a place to meet for those who have come from other nations and who retain their cultural and faith traditions.
Locally based initiatives also connect with national campaigns including support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and climate change. Early in 2021 members of the Unley UC in Adelaide organised an ecumenical Lenten study programme and this involved residents from different backgrounds working together in a community campaign to support the 2017 statement. A candidates’ forum will be held in the federal electorate of Adelaide when the election date is announced in 2022.
A congregation’s sense of purpose emerges when community connections and relationships grow and flourish. Partnership in ministry will grow when we do not try to do it all by ourselves or create dependency, where it’s about service with them not to them. A diaconal theology of service is not about church growth to get more members or a way to win converts. Congregations are renewed and empowered when they “re-tradition” their ministry and discover that others join by finding a community committed to justice, place making and a spirit of welcome.
7 December 2021