Recently, we posted stories about how churches are making an impact in their communities around the world: Better than prayer in schools, and One Way Christians Can Respond to Secularism. Peter Cheyne, NZCN Otago Regional Advocate, brings us this story from his region that was originally posted on the Presbyterian Synod of Otago and Southland site.
Roger Harrington speaking to the Council of Assembly about St Andrews, Invercargill
What I have to say I trust will encourage other churches to look outside of the church, seek ways to involve yourself in the community, build a relationship with people so that they may see Jesus Christ in what you do.
Paul said . “I will not boast about anything but what God has done.”
Joshua said “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord we do wonders among you.”
3 years ago the church was on its knees, unsure whether we should close the doors or amalgamate with another church as the congregation’s age was 70 plus. Some said lets keep praying and re commit ourselves to God and ask Him to lead us into the future.
St Andrews had been a church that was inward thinking for many years, always Bible based and was content within itself, but numbers were falling rapidly.
3 years ago, to show the people in the neighborhood that we were still alive, we delivered, 400 packets of hot cross buns in the area with a simple message. ” The time of Easter is a special time for us that Jesus died on the cross for you and me. This is a gift from the church.” The people at St Andrews have given out over 1200 buns at Easter. This outreach was much appreciated by all. A number of people from the Elston Lea flats were given this gift. Some men living in the flats were invited to a men’s breakfast and 4 men came. Some had marriage, gambling and alcohol problems. Two of these men gave their lives to God, both of these men have joined the church, they attend prayer and study groups, one is Clerk of Deacons Court, a change only God can make.
I read in a Christian magazine about an artist, Graham Bradock, who was teaching young people how to paint and draw. We obtained some material and ran a class with the help of a gifted artist. This reached children from all over the city but not many from the South of the city attended. Later we approached two schools nearby and asked if they would put a notice in their newsletter about running an art course, one school did not want to know us, the other said yes . When at the school with Nyalle (our ministry Intern), we asked the principal if there was any other way that the church could help the school.
She said that they had funding to build a school garden 20m x 10 with a high fence, shed and tunnel house but no parents would help. I asked her for a plan, Being a bit like Peter I said we would build it for the school. We took it to the courts and they said they would help. This involved us with the children and teachers at New River School.
This was the turning point for the church.
This year Environment Southland invited the men involved in the project to an evening when awards were given out for environment projects carried out from farming, forestry, water ways etc and for community work. St Andrews was awarded the Community award for Southland for our work with the school, plus $1000 from the Aluminum Smelter . This will be given back as a gift voucher of $250 to a senior pupil every year for the next four years. This person would have shown leadership and good achievements during the year. This award was on local TV, newspapers etc, great advertising for the church.
After finishing the garden we asked if there was something else we could do for the school. She said they have we have 6 & 7 children who have little understanding what they are reading, if one or two people would help these kids it would be great. 10 adults go to school weekly read to these kids. A marvelous opportunity to build a relationship with these young people, many of these kids go to the Inconz group. To think that a 76 year old man would go back to school and read and talk to them, unheard off.
When we go to school kids greet you, give you a hug, call out your name, even some teachers give you a hug , and I don’t mind.
The school holds its end of the year breakup , Anzac services and concerts at St Andrews. 90% of these children would have never entered a church with their parents. This year we gave out at Easter buns to all the children with a simple message about Easter. 10 Bible in School teachers go to that school, the highest number in the city. Why has this happened ? because God lead us out of our comfort zone and we took a step of faith.
18 months ago Teina Marie, a Cook Island lady with some Bible training was asked to join the Ministry team, and with 3 year support from Synod she accepted this challenge. Teina has completed a school Chaplaincy course, meets regularly with the school and works along side the teachers. A large percentage of families are Maori or Island people and she has wonderful skills and understanding of these people. Teina is a very important person in the ministry team.
A year ago Nyalle and I attended a Cook Island funeral held at St Andrews and a young man spoke how he had lead this man to Christ on his death bed. Nyalle and I approached this young man after the service and told him that God could use him at St Andrews. A week later he rang Nyalle and said, “Do you really mean what you said?”, Nyalle said, “yes.” This man is a social worker at a secondary school and a gifted musician. With the generous support from Synod for a year we employed Valoa for 3 years to work with youth.
We started a Inconz programme last year with 15 kids. When Valoa started the numbers grew and to date we have 60 young people attending every Wed & Thursday after school. The group has become too big so we have split it into year 1 to 4 and 5 year upwards. We believe that this time next year there will be 100 young people attending. But we can only do this with the help from Synod.
12 young people have given their lives to God and attend a weekly study group , and a leadership group, which Valoa and Nyalle take.
A youth service is held monthly and last time 27 young people sang , read the Bible and prayed with guidance from the leaders. This has not been seen at St Andrews for the last 25 years.
We believe that with these young people we can build a base for St Andrews.
A few months ago my wife was shopping at a Supermarket and overheard 2 staff people saying how sad it was that all that unsold baking was thrown out every day, she came home and told me, I saw the Manager and asked if we could have those goods to help struggling familes in the South of the City and he said “Yes.”
Marie and I pick up about 40 large boxes of food every week. We approached the school and asked them whether they would say in their newsletter, that St Andrews Church had access to bread etc and the Church would like to help families. Working though the school means that we are not Bible bashing families, but giving to them with love. Every day people from church deliver baking to these homes. We meet these people, this is a marvelous way to have contact with those outside of the church. A big number of children from these homes come to Inconz. There are always opportunities awaiting us, if we will take a step in faith and walk with God along the way.
This year we invited Mike Hawke, an Anglican Vicar from Christchurch to hold a Gospel Country and Western service in the Community Hall, the place was packed, next year we are looking at a City wide mission with this man.
We have become a multi cultural church, a family of 8 Samoan people have already joined the church, a family from the Marshall Is attends. Every week new people can be seen in Church.
Teina Marie could be encouraged into Ministry training.
Valoa Jack has the ability to become a Youth Director for the Presbyterian Church’s in Invercargill..
A contemporary service will be started next year by Valoa. Jack
What has happened at St Andrews is beyond belief.
The Tois Toi parish approached other church’s to see if they could join with them, they said no, they approached St Andrews, we said yes. We will try and help this church with our Ministry team, it will be hard work, but we will try.
Many opportunities are there, Café group for parents bringing their children to Inconz. Teenage youth group,
With the support of Synod we believe that we can build a viable church in the South of Invercargill.
The steps we have taken are.
- Commit yourselves to God. It might be only a few, look outside of the church for the lost and lonely.
- Work through a school with practical work
- Don’t preach to them at school, build a caring relationship with the teachers and pupils.
- Make the church facilities available to the school and community.
- Work the opposite way the church used to do.
(a) Through school children to parents, Inconz is a good start.
- Be a keen listener for opportunities.
- Be bold, don’t be put off by doubters in the courts and church, they will change when they see the results.
- The ministry team is a key part in growing the church. Using different giftsand fostering cultural understanding has been the gretest benfit to St Andrews.
Under funded church’s should be encouraged to join with another church, release funds and grow a Ministry based church.