Minchinbury ESL skyrockets
English as a Second Language classes at Minchinbury have proved a fruitful ministry for the church.
The classes have ballooned into two separate Easy English Bible studies, plus a service on Sunday mornings that is accessible to those with limited English and little exposure to Australian culture.
The first class was begun in April 2014 by church members Melanie Tanner and Elizabeth Spencer.
“Melanie and I had always thought that running Easy English Bible classes [with the ESL classes] was a great idea, but we also thought it would be too ambitious in our first year,” Ms Spencer says.
“On the very first day we had new people. One was a lady named Amy, originally from Hong Kong. She came straight up to us and said, ‘Can I come?’ After we said of course she could come, she then asked, ‘And are you going to teach the Bible?’ We said, ‘Yes, but maybe not right now’. She kept asking, and we just couldn’t keep saying ‘No’! Next term, we started the first Bible class.”
The English classes now have a regular roster of 20 people, with past and current students also often attending the following Bible study or Easy English service.
Minchinbury’s assistant minister the Rev Matt Baines, one of the leaders of the Easy English Bible studies, only began at the church last year but says even in that time the ministry has grown immensely.
“When we’ve participated in Anglicare ESL training days, we’ve spoken to people who have run these kinds of classes for years without feeling like it progresses,” he says. “For us... in two years it’s gone from nothing to a ministry with a developed structure. It has a mix of people, some who have been here from the beginning and are [now] being trained as leaders... and others who are new.”
Mr Baines and Ms Spencer agree it has been a demonstration of God’s grace amid the increasing need among immigrants to gain language skills and find community and friends. It’s meant a lot of work, but the effort has been worthwhile.
“Any ministry you commit to will always take up more time than you think,” Ms Spencer says. “There’s also Melanie, Matt and Kevin [Vollmer, pastor of the Easy English service] and other volunteers, although we sometimes do wish for more. At the end of the day, though, it’s really been an experience of God’s grace and provision.”
She says the task seemed daunting at first, but it is quite easy to start simply. They began with published ESL curricula and resources from Anglicare, which set a clear direction for the first few terms.
“What is most useful for people is just having an idea of what to say when they go shopping but, even more than that, to have a connection with someone local who can also help them with those things and be a friendly face,” she says.
Photo: All ears: students at Minchinbury’s ESL class pay careful attention to teacher Melanie Tanner.