Two weeks ago, some of deacons and ministry team visited a range of different community programmes around this region. Our hope was to be inspired by what other churches and organisations are doing; to hear God’s voice speaking to us about our ministry here.
Our first stop was the Common Ground site at Dickson. This is a really exciting ACT Government project to build 40 affordable housing units in partnership with Common Ground, an organisation that has developed five principles that have been extremely effective in ending the cycle of homelessness.
- Common Ground housing project are a partnership between community groups, the private sector and the government.
- With a mix of around 50% income-earning households, Common Ground aims to create a community that models engagement with the wider community, rather than a concentrated pocket of disadvantage.
- The site is made safe for all residents.
- There are support services onsite for people who need them.
- The housing is of very high quality.
There was added interest in this project as Peter Churcher and Sienna Maill, two members of our church, both had a part in it, in their professional roles. We also had to wear high vis and hard hats (see the picture)!
In the future Common Ground are looking to establish a third housing project in the Tuggeranong area (the first one was in Gungahlin).
What impressed me about this project was the desire to create genuine community – community where people feel valued, where they can give as well as receive, where they can build genuine relationships.
Prior to this day, we read a paper by Jon Kuhrt, from West London Mission (http://www.hindestreet.org.uk/uploads/3/2/1/3/32133699/homelessness_and_the_3_faces_of_poverty_-_jk.pdf), where he spoke about material poverty, relationship poverty and identity poverty. The approach of Common Ground is not only to provide people with homes to meet their material needs, but with facilities that foster creativity and relationship (Common Ground includes an art space, community gardens, playground and common cooking and dining space) to meet people’s relationship and identity needs as well.
From Dickson we headed to Gungahlin. We had a look – from the outside – of Common Grace Gungahlin (the Common Ground representatives had filled us in on what we’d find there) and we made our way to Gungahlin Uniting to see their food pantry.
This is a small operation that has grown over the years, but faced significant challenges with Covid. Pre-Covid there was a café in the church that provided opportunities for people to get to know each other – not just collect food supplies – and they are hopefully that this will recommence soon.
I asked the convenor, “Why are you – as a church – running this food pantry?”
“Because,” she said, “We want to serve the local community.”
It was a good answer. We do, as Christians, want to serve our local community, but – after our visit to Common Ground – the response also seemed to fall short. We want to serve our local community, but we also want to build community.
It was clear, however, as we spoke to her, that the food pantry had built significant connections and relationships with people. The convenor spoke about knowing the families that attended, how many are in their households, and having the flexibility to allow people to take home – not just one of each item – but enough to supply their total household needs.
Finally we made our way from Gungahlin to Queanbeyan to speak to Father Michael and Elaine at St Benedicts, a shared initiative of the churches in Queanbeyan that assists people to find housing, meals, advocacy and practical support. They gave us a potted history of the decades of work they have done, spoke about the ways of working that enabled them to sustain the work (and themselves) and shared their vision – to find Christ and be the presence of Christ among their community in Queanbeyan. Their mission statement is, “A local caring community where all are welcome in the spirit of Christ and are offered practical support and respectful relationships to change lives.” As we spoke to them it was clear they were serving the community, but their motivation was not service, but relationship – building a local caring community, welcoming people in the spirit of Christ and offering support and respectful relationships.
It was a fascinating day and a day that continues to shape our thinking.
Yes, we are called to serve the community around us. But – more than that – we are called to love the community around us. Are we prepared to love the community around us, to desire relationship with people, to address people’s needs for relationship poverty and identity poverty – as well as material poverty?
Jon Kuhrt from West London Mission say this:
My final point is that churches should be confident about the important role they have to play – because we have unique resources to address all three of these forms of poverty…. The church can do a huge amount to respond to poverty – both practically through night shelters and politically through campaigning. All these things are essential – but should not limit ourselves to responding materially. For in the gospel of Christ offers unique resources to address the poverties of relationships and identity. And it’s because, at the heart of the message on which the whole of the Christian enterprise is founded, there is the offer of a new relationship – both within a church community and also with God. The God of the Bible is not a solitary monad waiting to be discovered – but is a relational God of the Trinity, who reaches out to us with love and reconciliation. So as well as the practical and political efforts we can make to address material poverty, we should also be confident of the resources we have to help people build health relationships and re-build their identity.
It brings us back to last Sunday’s sermon and why we are so thankful for the church – that the church is where we learn about Jesus, that the church is where we are reconciled – built into new relationship – with God and each other, and the church is where we find our forever home! Through the church God doesn’t just meet our material needs, but comes to build relationship with us – to get to know us! Through the church we do the same for each other and for others.
Go in peace and live the church!
PS If anyone has card tables we can borrow for Beetle on Friday – please let me know and I’ll come and pick them up! Thank you!