10 year challenge - Church Edition
Nine years ago, the Rev James Collins arrived at St Paul’s, Burwood as rector to a small group of godly folk who had seen the suburb around them change utterly.
A shrinking pool of people who didn't know what to do
“We are the fifth most ethnically diverse municipality in Australia,” he explains. “Our love for God in our worship bids us to go and reach out with God’s love into the community… but we had a shrinking pool of people who didn’t know what to do.”
Now the parish is growing – in numbers, in service, and in daily trust that God will provide what they need to care for those around them.
It all began with a playgroup
It began with a playgroup. Recognising that many locals live in apartments and most were from a non-English speaking background, this was an opportunity to connect around educational play and songs, as well as giving carers some English skills.
This took off, and gradually St Paul’s added a parish pantry – giving free food to those in need. Now, it also offers literacy classes, computing classes, refugee care and a Lifejacket ministry for rough sleepers, which provides clothes, toiletries and pet food plus medical and vet services. And there’s a team of church volunteers for each ministry.
There’s also a bi-monthly community hub, where people on the margins (through issues such as domestic violence, age and illness) can access 20 service providers under the one roof: from Centrelink to Dressed for Success. In addition, the parish advocates for the needs of the homeless and marginalised
The need is exponential, but God provides
“We’re just reaching out in every way,” Mr Collins says. “Each month more people are coming for help from different ethnic groups and in every age bracket – so the need is exponential, but God provides.
“Every week we run out and every week the well fills up, and it’s a wonderful journey trusting God. The church has gone from being an inward-looking building that people walk past to now being embedded into the community.”
He says the parish doesn’t exploit its position – not giving to the homeless and expecting them to attend church, for example. Rather, locals are seeing or hearing about what is being done and are linking up with St Paul’s in response.
From an ageing group of 60 “beautiful old souls” – many of whom have gone to their reward since Mr Collins’ arrival – the church now has well over 100 people attending each week and continues to grow.
“We’re here to bring love – that’s the God-shaped hole in every person,” Mr Collins says. “That’s our role. We know that God who raised Christ from the dead is able to breathe new life into this world and that’s why we do all these things… it’s a profound expression of love for God and our neighbour and our hope in the resurrection.
“We’re coming alive and it’s only by God’s grace… and it’s very exciting.”