Reopening a church seems challenging enough, but for St Paul’s, Canterbury, it was too good of an evangelistic opportunity to miss. With gathering sizes expected to be limited for a while, the Rev Steve Gardner saw it as a chance to move a small team from the morning congregation and launch a third service in mid-July with an easy English focus. 

Their third service will have an easy-English focus

This kind of service was always on the cards for St Paul’s, but, Mr Gardner says, “with the COVID-19 situation, it’s [been] thrust upon us much quicker. There is a need in our context for this.”

More than 50 per cent of the Canterbury LGA was born overseas, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and residents in almost two thirds of its homes speak a language other than English.

The parish has already established contacts with people from a variety of backgrounds including Mongolia, Nepal, Indonesia, Africa and Vietnam. These are a result of ministries such as a playgroup, English conversation class and a community food pantry.

Reading and teaching the Bible will be at the heart of the new service, but the plan is to approach prayer in a more flexible and multicultural way. 

“Different ethnic communities pray differently,” Mr Gardner says. For example, people from  Mongolia “really value speaking significant words to one another and praying significantly to God. They have extended times of prayer, and periods where the congregation prays individually or in smaller groups for a portion of time.” 

He and the team at St Paul’s praise God for the unique opportunity to do something missional in light of the pandemic. 

“Pray we might be able to come out of [the lockdown] stronger,” Mr Gardner says. “We’re mindful we need prayer for the congregation to get used to doing church in person together. There are a range of emotions people are feeling. Pray for our congregation to adapt well, and for a spirit of unity to get behind this new service. We’re really hopeful that this service will help us build on the many contacts we have with different cultural groups in the area.

"We might be able to come out stronger" 

“We really feel God is in the business of turning around bleak situations. We think now this is the time to do this in a way that will help us be a church for all people.”