For those whose heart language is not English, there’s something special about having the opportunity to express your faith in that language. This year, a monthly service for Gujarati Christians has been held at Doonside Anglican, where people can gather and worship God in their native tongue.
This is not the first time this group has met together in Sydney – the Gujarati Christian Fellowship dates back to 2010, when it started in one family’s house. Later, it moved to St John’s Cathedral in Parramatta, before shifting to Doonside in 2018. COVID disrupted their meetings for some months but, in May, the fellowship resumed running the service on the last Saturday of each month, initially in person and then on Zoom when the Delta strain locked Sydney down.
“The aim was to offer a time and place where Gujarati Christians can worship God in their own language,” says the Rev Alexander Purnomo, rector of Doonside. “They ran the service on Saturdays so that people can still attend their local churches on Sundays.”
Many Gujarati Christians living in Sydney are migrants, coming from different denominational backgrounds in India. A leader of the fellowship says that despite these different backgrounds, members “want to grow together in faith in Christ and reach other Gujarati people who don’t yet know Christ”.
“Most of them are young families, with little children and often both parents working, like most migrant families… they have busy lives,” he adds. “They live in different suburbs, sometimes far from each other. They usually speak English well and are part of their local English-speaking church.”
That’s what makes the monthly Saturday gathering so important. It provides a place where Gujarati people can gather and speak their heart language. There is also the opportunity to be a Christian witness to the wider Gujarati community. According to the 2016 Census there are more than 52,000 Gujarati speakers living in greater Sydney – many from a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or Jain faith background.
“Gujarati Christians try to stay in touch with friends from non-Christian backgrounds – they invite each other to various festivals and birthday parties,” Mr Purnomo says. “The services have been mostly attended by people from Christian backgrounds, but on special occasions, such as memorial services for deceased parents in India, many friends from Hindu backgrounds have come along.”
The past two years have been tough on the community, as many from the fellowship work in the health care sector. “[They are] therefore on the frontline of our city’s struggle in the pandemic,” Mr Purnomo says. “Please pray for strength, endurance and protection from the virus.”
With lockdown restrictions eased, and churches able to physically gather once more, members of the Gujarati Christian Fellowship are thankful to be able to worship together. Adds Mr Purnomo: “Pray that the Gujarati community and ministry might grow and reach out to all Gujarati people in Sydney and beyond. [Pray] Christ might be glorified and that the Lord might raise up Gujarati-speaking ministers and gospel workers.”