The Georges River region of Sydney is a fantastic place to do ministry. What we’ve found since coming to St Paul’s is that there are so many gospel opportunities. Naturally, it is a challenge at times to know which to say yes to and what to say no to, but one of the very encouraging patterns we’ve noticed is that just getting in and having a crack at something often bears fruit. I suspect this is partly because there are lots of people and not as many churches as you might find in other regions of the diocese.
Because of this we’re often meeting people who are very positive about being invited to church. We’ve been reminded a number of times of Jesus’ words in John 10 that his sheep will know his voice and follow him (John 10.4). Take Hamidas an example. Hamid walked past our church and saw a sign that said ‘looking for a fresh start in 2019? So are we. We’d love to meet you.’ The sign resonated with Hamid and he walked into our church one Sunday. He, like many in our area, migrated to Australia years earlier. His family is very religious but Hamid had spent the last 10 years or so living in darkness and running away from the Lord. Hamid has been to church every week since then and has joined our blokes bible study group, he’s also begun seeing a Christian psychologist to seek help in breaking some negative patterns. We’ve met a number of people like Hamid who have reminded us that there are many of his sheep in our parish who are waiting to hear his voice.
What’s Canterbury like?
Canterbury is a fascinating place to do mission. You may have heard of the Latte Line, describing Sydney’s cultural and socio-economic division. Well, Canterbury is smack bang on the middle of the line. This was brought home to us during the debates surrounding the 2017 plebiscite into same sex marriage. Half of our parish is situated in the Grayndler electorate which was the 3rdhighest yes voting electorate in the nation, and the other half of our parish is situated in Watson, the 2ndhighest no voting electorate.
It’s a place of incredible cultural and political diversity, and it’s a place that changes astonishingly quickly. For example, according to the 2016 census there were a negligible number of Mongolians living in Canterbury. Just eighteen months later, so many have moved into the suburb that Mongolian students now make up 15% of the local primary school population. All of this means that our task of making disciples of Jesus in Canterbury and Hurlstone Park means we need to be flexible, quick to act and creative.
Revitalising and planting congregations gives you a kind of permission and impetus to go hard in the community, trying lots of things and pestering people with lots of invitations. One of our big aims over the last 2 years was to develop staple outreach ministries that would bear fruit for a long time to come. We’ve tried a bunch of things: community barbeques, playgroup, kids club, parenting seminars, a youth drop-in, Anglicare’s Mobile Community Pantry, evangelistic courses, food drives, door knocking, a trivia night, a clothes-swap, and lots and lots of leafletting. We’ve planted an evening congregation and re-potted our morning congregation.
There’s still lots of work for us to do but we simply wouldn’t have been able to see the fruit we’ve seen had it not been for the creativity, courage and gospel generosity of others.
Three years ago I began speaking with my then-rector, Antony Barraclough (West Pymble) about developing an ongoing partnership with a church in the Georges River region. To cut a long story short, that ended in us leaving West Pymble and joining the saints in Canterbury and Hurlstone Park. St Matthews West Pymble took us on as linked missionaries and, with my wife Claire, and I began at St Paul’s in January 2017. West Pymble supported us in 3 key areas: financially (as St Paul’s, like many churches in the GRR, had not been able to provide a full time stipend for a number of years), prayerfully, and by sending people to move into the area and join us. All of this meant that we were able to do a lot more ministry much quicker had we not had that injection of resources and prayers.
I mention this because it has been a huge blessing to St Paul’s over the last 2 years, but also because it’s a model that, I personally think needs to be replicated if we are going to make disciples of Jesus in the Georges River region. I’d also wholeheartedly encourage people heading into ministry to think creatively about what it might look like to serve the Great Shepherd in less resourced areas of our city.
This article was originally published in the ACR’s Journal for Winter 2019.
Not his real name.