The title of Tim Costello’s 2019 autobiography A Lot with a Little prompted me to document stories of churches who partner with others in their neighbourhood. Their contribution to building stronger communities is often achieved by a few who respond creatively to the challenge of social change and remain committed over many years.
The Port Adelaide Uniting Church (PAUC) is one place where this is evident. With a congregation of about 50 members and no full-time minister for the past 20 or more years, lay members have demonstrated how to be creative in sharing gifts and skills and in being generous with their resources. There are at least eight specific ways this congregation expresses their love of neighbourhood, the place where they are located. Founded 170 years ago this church has adapted its ministry in response to population trends and economic ups and downs over the years and that commitment continues.
In the past two years they have reworked the ministry of their CK Community Hub (CK), a shop-front at 160 St Vincent St (Bower Buildings 1870-1). This street ministry started in 1981 as a low-cost café provided a haven and a listening ear for people in need. The CK remains one of the few experiential church-based community innovations of the 70s and 80s to survive over the years. The hub operates as a community centre and provides a place of welcome for residents. Its aims include… a welcome to all: to actively find and work with local people: to make real friendships and grow together: to be a place where people can stop and talk about daily things or more important things.
Volunteers at the CK Community Hub have a heart for welcoming people with disadvantage (e.g. mental health issues), encouraging them to take on responsibility as appropriate, fostering self-esteem, skills, growth and friendship. We welcome people to be involved in an integrated community program where people can get to know each other and support each other. Those of us who volunteer here are very conscious of also being vulnerable listeners and learners and not always the ‘doers’.
The people who come are encouraged to set and review the norms: the values and behaviours by which we interact with each other. They regularly choose projects. Last year the group chose a watercolour and mosaic project and applied successfully to the local council to fund a local artist and materials. New people from the community joined us to participate in the project and we exhibited in SALA. This project like many others has enabled people to learn new skills, take on a range of responsibilities and welcome new people.
Bent Pine Community Garden
A recent project led by a few volunteers has led to the formation of a community garden in the church’s backyard. A fragile bent pine tree at the entrance gives the garden its name. The tree is a reminder of welcome, reminding all about the possibility that we can grow and dare to flourish with others even with our asymmetries and flaws.
We fossick in the dark, composted soil, planting and tending both flowers and vegetables; we recycle and compost organic waste which we find in our own space as well as that which we receive from two local cafes; and we talk with each other and with those who pass by. We try to create a beautiful green space in an otherwise concretized urban landscape.
Working on site at 169 Commercial Rd brings us into natural contact with our neighbours. There is greeting and sharing of fresh produce as those passing by call in and work with us.
The Bent Pine garden is also a member of The Semaphore Compost Network (SCN). SCN is like an extension of our neighbourhood. We are encouraged by what our neighbours and fellow community members are doing. We share experiences and food. And we learn from what others are doing. Together with the SCN we discover in our focus on the shared, common soil, the value of that which holds us together as a community in a larger environment otherwise characterized by polarization.
150th Anniversary Mural
One of several outstanding on-site church art projects is on public view on a neighbouring wall. This creative work continues to build on some particularly challenging moments when the 150-year-old two story heritage listed building and site needed imaginative adaptation and major restoration work.
This public art project was created when PAUC and local community members came together to design and paint a large vibrant mural adjacent to the Bent Pine Community Garden. The project was a feature of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the building and expresses the symbols and memories of the local environment, a sense of place to be celebrated. Using Mark 4: 31-32 as a starting point, the theme of Bent Pine became ‘Sanctuary’.
On two consecutive Saturday mornings open planning meetings designed the project with local flora, fauna with the bent pine tree in mind. The primary images include a great tree with roots into the ground (Psalm 1) by a stream (Tam ‘O Shanter Creek). Other images include beautiful flora and fauna, birds, reptiles, mammals, flowers, butterflies and bees that are seen along the Port River. Local totems of the Kaurna people include the black swan and emu.
A generous grant from City of Port Adelaide Enfield enabled the church to employ local artists Kalyna Mycenko and Bob Daly and they assisted by transferring our designs on to the wall in November 2018. Brave volunteers then spent two weeks painting using a scaffold and over forty painters, aged four to ninety old, included passers-by and visitors who read about it on Facebook and came to paint or watch. The mural is a significant contribution to the ongoing ‘Wonder Walls’ project in the Port Adelaide centre.
In addition to these creative projects’ members have maintained their long-term support for the Junction Community Centre at Ottoway. This community-based organisation has been able to grow a seven-day open house programme and brings residents together to share their many religious and ethnic traditions. https://www.junctioncommunity.org.au
Members also keep in touch with the expansive UnitingSA agency, now one of the state’s largest community service organisations. In 2019 UnitingSA celebrated 100 years of church engagement in a changing community.
PAUC also has strong links with the Port Adelaide Historical Society. Over the past 50 years the society has played an important part in supporting the efforts of local and state governments to ensure that Port Adelaide centre becomes a historic tourist destination. Check out their great photographic collection at http://portadelaide.org/
Not to be outdone in 2017 members welcomed and provided hospitality to a new congregation. The City International Christian Church shares the use of their sanctuary on Sundays and at other times. This independent congregation in the charismatic tradition is largely made up of immigrants from African nations with links to home churches in Tanzania.
The congregation meets each Sunday for worship at 9.00am and week day groups meet to support and encourage members to live out their vision… Port Uniting is an inclusive community and as Jesus welcomed and valued everyone, so do we. We believe that every person is important, and everybody matters. Our worship seeks to be a creative, vibrant experience, for all ages, and inviting to people from all walks of life. http://portadelaide.unitingchurch.org.au/
The Morning Tea Club meet on the third Wednesday of the month at 10am and this session includes a range of activities including table games, jigsaws, draughts, scrabble, drawing and painting. In the winter, its Soup and Toast at 12noon before they return home. A Craft Group meets on the second and fourth Tuesday each month and members include both church and community residents. A Playgroup meets every Tuesday morning during school terms for babies and children up to 5 including carers and parents. Bible Study groups meet on Sunday nights during the seasons of Advent and Lent.
Thank you to Liz, Anne, Joan, Val, Norm and the two Ian’s for sharing your story.