It’s one thing to host evangelistic events at your church. It’s quite another when your outreach function features an apron-clad Archbishop cooking a curry.
“People loved it and really enjoyed hearing from Kanishka – his story, his Sri Lankan background, and he was clearly passionate about Sri Lankan curries as well!” says one of the parish’s assistant ministers, the Rev Gavin Parsons.
The two Anglican churches in Wahroonga became one parish a year ago, he says, and members planned from the outset to be deliberate in how they welcomed the community into their gatherings, and God’s family, through sharing the good news of Jesus. So, an Easter mission was planned and Archbishop Raffel was invited to speak.
“He said, ‘Yes... I’m able to come on a Wednesday night’ – and as a throwaway line he said, ‘Can I cook a curry?’” Mr Parsons recalls with a laugh.
“I used to work with Kanishka at Shenton Park [in Perth]… and we did a number of foodie outreaches there. He’s done a lot of events where he’s told his story about moving from Buddhism to Christianity, but I don’t think he’d done one of these before. I knew what he could do, so it grew out of that.”
Some months later, Moore College confirmed that a mission team would also come to the parish at the same time, so this made it possible to host a larger event with the Archbishop and welcome about 150 people in for a chatty demonstration of four of his family recipes, followed by dinner and his testimony.
“It was bigger than we expected, but [it’s] nice that people brought their friends and felt really comfortable about it,” Mr Parsons says. “Meals make it easy, and there was also a bit of curiosity about Kanishka coming and cooking a curry. He had fun, the vibe was great and it all worked really well.”
Kanishka’s Kitchen, as it was christened, was only the first event in a month of community outreach. In addition to personal invitations, flyers were put into letterboxes inviting people to events, while services each week and over Easter focused on five “Jesus is” statements – from Jesus is stronger than death, and larger than life, to bigger than failure.
“We are conscious of being guest-friendly and welcoming anyway, but the idea was to build on top of that Easter cultural expectation – a time when people might come back to church, or have a look,” Mr Parsons says.
Events prior to Easter sought to assist by reaching a range of demographics. The weekend before Easter, Wahroonga held a kids “Eggstravaganza” – using every part of its property to provide a magic show, Easter hunt, petting zoo, jumping castle and puppet show, plus coffee and treats for parents as they watched their kids have fun.
“There’s been some really good stories about families wanting to connect up with our kids’ and youth ministries, or taking information home,” Mr Parsons says. “People off the street also came and joined in. There was a family that wasn’t sure if they could come in because they’re not believers, and we said, ‘You’re very welcome – come onto the property and be part of the fun!’”
The parish also hosted “Hymns and hot cross buns” for seniors on Palm Sunday afternoon, following the success of a similar event at Christmas. The 60-70 attendees sang 10 hymns focused on the Cross and resurrection, followed by tea, hot cross buns and other treats.
“Some people just come for this kind of event – and they loved it,” Mr Parsons says. “There are so many opportunities for us in our seniors space. During the week leading up to it we also had a couple of other events and afternoon teas in local [aged care] villages where we are building connections.
“What we wanted with this whole month was for people to take one step further in how they’re engaging in our life of mission together. Part of that is being ready to give a reason for the hope that we have, and part of that might be being courageous and issuing an invitation.
“If everyone moves one or two steps in being more deliberate, that’s a great thing for a mission period like this.”