Mission in a Melbourne suburb
Testimony by David Wanstall, Australian guardian
Christine and I live in Chadstone, a suburb in the east of Melbourne. I am the pastor of Encounter Baptist Church, a missionally focused church of about 70 people. Chris is a church health consultant for the Baptist Union, runs her own consulting business and leads Accessible Prophecy in Australia.
We have been learning to live out Missional Community life for a number of years and have gone through a couple of generations of Missional Communities. This included a gathering season a few years ago when we stopped our missional communities and reflected on their strengths and weaknesses before starting new ones.
Our suburb is incredibly diverse. We have old original inhabitants from when the suburb was founded after the Second World War on the then edge of Melbourne. We also have young professionals who have moved into the area, building new expensive houses. We have a significant Chinese and Korean population. There are international students in share houses who attend nearby colleges and universities. And we also have several thousand people who live in public and social housing - both individual houses, flats and apartment complexes. According to the most recent census, within a few kilometres of where we live, there are 20,000 people who aren’t Christians.
The missional community that we lead co-lead with Celia and Michael is called Chadstone Oikos. Our vision is to be a welcoming community for people in our area, particularly those who are disconnected. Our main activity is a weekly community meal on Sunday nights. A few years ago, the age mix of our Oikos was intergenerational, but at the moment we seem to be connecting with people, often single/divorced women in their 50’s and older. Many of them live in public/social housing.
In the last few years our Oikos has seen 5 people come into the life of our church and join Discipling Communities (our name for small groups). One significant point of connection was when I joined a knitting group at a local neighbourhood house. It was attended by older, single women and when I stuck my head into the room where they were meeting, they said I couldn’t come in unless I was knitting. So for a joke, I borrowed some needles and wool from Chris and the next time they challenged me, I took them out of my back pocket to great hilarity. Over weeks and months they taught me to knit (not very well) and rescued me when I dropped stitches. One of them joined our Oikos and over time she invited two others. She has also since started another gathering for people in our community called Coffee Connect.
The most recent connection was with a lady I met while out prayer walking. We got talking, I found out that she was in public housing and had recently had a stroke. I told her where she could get emergency food if she required it. So she then asked me how I knew that and I mentioned I was the local Baptist minister. She then immediately told me that while she was in intensive care, she had had a near death experience and encountered God. She has been coming regularly to our Oikos and we have regular conversations trying to help her unpack and respond to her experience.
Between 2013 and 2016 our church went through a Learning Community and Community of Practice. Since that finished our church has joined with a small Anglican Church to do joint training events every 6 months for our missional leaders that we call Network Training Days. We find it incredibly valuable as our missional leaders get the encouragement of hearing stories of what missional leaders from other churches are doing. In addition, when we do SWOT’s, our missional leaders get the benefit of an external set of eyes to provide reflection and input.
We would appreciate your prayers as we are in the process of developing missional communities reaching out to young families, and international students, while still looking and praying for the people of peace and entry points to reach the 5000 children and youth in our area that don’t know Jesus.