Imagine serving a multicultural community, where food is a love language, without a kitchen. Imagine the only building you have to run a kids’ ministry becoming condemned, and resorting to teaching children in all weathers under temporary gazebos set up outside.
Imagine ministering to a community where there are multiple drive-by shootings at apartment blocks near the church, where four out of five households speak a language other than English and there are more than 160 cultures represented.
This is the context that makes the installation of a new demountable so significant for St James’, Berala, and the search for an assistant minister an incredible milestone worthy of celebration. They are signs of God’s faithfulness and a testimony to the growth of the church after years of steady, faithful perseverance.
Since moving to Berala eight years ago, one question has been on the mind of rector the Rev Mike Doyle: “How do we make and grow followers of Jesus?”
“We were working out how to reach a very multicultural neighbourhood with many people from different places. Under God, we have grown in that time.”
When he first started at the church, there were approximately 40 people gathering. This has now grown to an average of 130 each Sunday. “There are times in the past we’ve only had two people in our youth group, now we have 15-20 there on a Friday night. We had two teens confirmed [this year] and that’s the first confirmation our church has done in possibly 30 years or more.”
God’s continued faithfulness
The major hurdles for growth have been facilities and finances. “[Building at] the church was never finished,” Mr Doyle says. “There was never a proper kitchen. A demountable was put in the yard in the ’80s, and when I arrived it fell off the foundations.
“We only had one space to do ministry but we had children’s, youth, and we also [run] refugee groups, Bible studies, music groups – we needed more space. [The demountable] is so exciting. It’s tripled the space we now have for ministry.”
In an area where almost 50 per cent of the community isn’t in the labour force, simply spending money to improve their building hasn’t really been an option.
“We often have people coming to our church and our groups who can’t put food on the table,” Mr Doyle says. “We were a provisional parish for over 50 years with no money, and that meant almost nothing was done on the church building except through volunteer labour. It wasn’t too long ago that they used to water down the communion wine to save money.
“The idea that we could put in a demountable classroom is mind boggling for so many… and the idea that we could somehow pay for another staff member… This is the reality of ministry in our area. There’s no magic money tree. There are no people in our church who are very very rich – it's the working class, immigrants and refugees.”
For a moment, it looked like the purchase of new demountables might actually bankrupt St James’. The demountables had been delayed a long while, and during that time the cost of setting them up had increased dramatically.
“The warden looking after it said, ‘There are $63,000 in bills to pay that have not been funded; we can’t not pay them and we don’t have the money’,” Mr Doyle recalls.
After they made this “sobering announcement” to church, a widow approached Mr Doyle. Explaining that her late husband was a big supporter of the demountable project, she shared that they had planned to donate $60,000 from the estate to the project.
“She said, ‘Since you’ve just announced that you’re $63,000 short, I’ll make it $63,000 and you’ll have a cheque on Sunday’ and I broke down in tears,” he recalls. “It was God at work, and an answer to a prayer we literally just prayed.
“There is no doubt God is at work in our church and in our area in all sorts of ways, whether it’s outreach and seeing people become followers of Jesus, or demountables. God is generously providing. Under God, we’re seeing people become followers of Jesus and grow as followers of Jesus.”
Pray for the ministry of St James’, Berala
Pray that they will keep working hard at God’s mission to make and grow followers of Jesus
Give great thanks for the growth that they have seen over the years
Pray they will find the right churches and people willing to partner with them to fund the new assistant minister
Pray that they find the right person for the assistant minister role
Pray they can keep learning how to share the news of Jesus with their community.
Praise God for bringing so many different nations and cultures to Berala