A cool drink and a yarn with Pastor Tom Sloane
In December 2019 Nathan Tyson, Community Engagement and Partnership Specialist for Uniting was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Pastor Tom Sloane in Wellington who is engaged in ministry and missional activities as part of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.
With smoke haze from bushfires around Orange and Lithgow area still very thick across the rural landscape, Nathan arrived at the Wellington UAICC Church, just a stone’s throw from Wellington railway station, and found Pastor Tom Sloane out the back working with a group of men from his Men’s Group.
A cool drink and a yarn revealed that Tom has a regular Men’s Group at the Church among other community ministries, where he teaches the men practical life skills – including welding, brickwork, carpentry and mechanics.
An opportunity to yarn
“Working shoulder to shoulder with the Men provides an opportunity to yarn and gives the men a safe place to share their stories,” explained Tom.
This is also an opportunity to provide some mentoring and counselling, and the odd passage or two from the Gospel. “A number of the men from the Men’s group have eventually begun attending the Sunday service,” he offered. “We just open the door and if they want to come along they are welcome.”
The Men’s group use donated materials– old washing machines, lawn mowers and even old cars and caravans — which they repair or re-purpose. The group has even been able to fix up a few cars that were donated to be able to give them to community members in need.
Tom also does a range of voluntary work for the local Co-Op and Aboriginal Lands Council, including mowing lawns and doing various repair work.
“I have always been good with my hands,” says Tim and credits his range of skills to his Dad. In turn he enjoys being able to teach others and to put to good use.
Tom visits Wellington Correctional Centre each Friday for about four hours to run an art based program, that he calls “Yalmumbirra” – which translates to English as “Place of learning”.
Tom says: “It’s basically mentoring, but I find it really rewarding”.
Participation in the program is voluntary, but 20 men turn up to each session. They have a short devotion at the start of each session, and then begin painting. Tom yarns with them as they paint and says many of the men really open up and share their stories.
Tom will occasionally refer to the Gospel when the time is appropriate, and says: “The program helps them find themselves through art. I tell them that they need to put themselves into the painting, to paint the ‘where and why’, and how they can connect back to their family and bond in their relationships”.
The program has been running for 6 months, and has just stopped for Christmas. The Correctional Centre has asked Tom if he will continue the program in the new year, which is a testament to the value of Tom’s work and positive outcomes being achieved through the program.
Other occasional work includes some outreach to Nanima Village, an Aboriginal community about seven kilometres outside of Wellington, with a population around 200.
Tom enjoys networking around the town, and says “I feel like I was born to do that – to help people”.
Tom, then refers me to Luke 6:32-36:
“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, [h]hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”
Looking to the future
Tom reflected that it is important for us to help others, and not expect anything in return, and we both agreed that this was one of the foundational beliefs of Christian faith.
Outreach with other Aboriginal Churches in Orange, Condobolin, Gilgandra, Dubbo will continue as will a possible rally in Wellington to bring them all together.
Having recently completed a range of training, including Living our Values, Safe Church, and recently the Ethical Ministry training, Tom is encouraging all UAICC members to take the opportunity to do the training.
Tom noted: “There were things I hadn’t ever thought of, and doing the training really opens your eyes up – you get to know what to be aware of when engaging in Ministry to make sure everyone is safe”.
How you can assist the Sloanes in their ministry
When asked about how people can assist with this important mentoring and training Tom said that food supplies were always welcomed, as there are many doing it hard, as well as furniture, clothing, and other second-hand goods.
“I can always find people to help with second hand goods, particularly people coming out of gaol with things like a washing machine. Even old metal and parts can be repurposed into useful things, and used to help the Men develop trade skills,” notes Tom.
Another way people can assist is by donating soft cover Bibles that Tom can give out in prison.
Tom and his wife Stella are organising a Christmas dinner on Wed 25 December, and says he would love to give kids and attendees a small gift (40-50 people attend), and that any donations would be gratefully accepted. Also, any food for food hampers would be very kindly received.
Pastor Tom Sloane can be contacted on 0401 461 318 if anyone would like to offer support to his Congregation and community.
Nathan Tyson, Community Engagement and Partnership Specialist, Uniting