The new sign at All Saints’, Woollahra is getting noticed – not an easy thing when your church is tucked away up a hill on a busy street.
The church service time is listed, along with a welcome for “All saints and all not-so-saints”. It’s doing its job as a talking point, which is just one way for the parish’s new ministry team – the Rev Simon Manchester and the Rev Marcelo Morbelli – to reach out to the local community.
At the moment the beautiful old church, which is much bigger inside than its street frontage would suggest, has one service each Sunday, with a choir. Church members are very welcoming, serving people, but at the moment there is no Sunday school, youth ministry or young families. So, there is room for many more saints. And not-so-saints.
“People asked me today, ‘What’s going to happen?’ and my response was, ‘I don’t think I have all the answers’,” Mr Morbelli says. “We’ve come to get to know the people here, the culture, the history – what makes All Saints’ tick – and then together we can think, pray, hope for a future where we do see this building filled up again.”
It’s not your average rector and assistant team. Mr Morbelli is working three days a week at Woollahra and three days a week at nearby Centennial Park, where he will join the evening congregation at St Matthias, look after growth groups and lead and train others.
Mr Manchester “retired” from St Thomas’, North Sydney in 2019, but with an old family connection and affection for Woollahra, he was more than willing to take on a part-time role at the parish for a year or two, working with and training a young minister.
“I’m going to tell Marcelo how to make mistakes in ministry and he’s going to tell me how to be popular,” he jokes.
Adds Mr Morbelli: “We’re working it out as we go along, and I’m keen to learn from all of Simon’s mistakes, and I guess make some mistakes at the same time. It’s lovely to meet people and just to start – to begin.”
Mr Manchester began two months ago, and already wishes there was an escalator from the street to the door of the church, as some members simply can’t make it up the hill any longer. There’s also been talk in the past of a minibus to bring people in.
But what he really wants is missionaries.
“We’ve followed a faithful and loving pastor in David [West] and his wife Jane, who gave many years with many initiatives,” he says. “Now we need some missionary people who feel as though they have received well and are ready to give – and, as it says in Acts, to ‘come over and help us’.”
And there are plenty of gospel opportunities. The suburb has an average age of 42, with 30-33 the most represented age bracket, and mums with prams are a common sight on the streets.
Mr Morbelli, who will share Scripture teaching at the local public school with the Uniting Church minister, says, “At Woollahra everyone walks there and drops their kids off. We want to see that as a mission field in and of itself and get to know the local families. If they can walk to school, then hopefully they can walk to church on Sunday mornings.
“My long-term vision is, at the most basic level, is just to see people in the suburb won for Christ... to do it slowly and do it together. Not a lightning moment where the building is suddenly filled up, but as one person shares their faith with another, hopefully that will build faith over time.
Adds Mr Manchester: “We need the lights to come on for people in Woollahra. We’re very thankful to be here – it’s a lovely door that’s been opened – but we need a lot of wisdom, some patience and some breakthroughs, by the grace of God.”