Blacktown: Unique challenges bridging cultures and generations
This is the third part in Insights’ series of interviews with ministers in local government areas (LGAs) of concern about the impact of heightened lockdown restrictions on their congregations. Rev. Laurel Barr is the minister at Blacktown Uniting Church, a community that faces some unique challenges as they continue to bridge cultures and generations.
She told Insights, “Blacktown Uniting Church is a multicultural congregation with new migrants from mainly South Asian and Islander backgrounds but also a few from the Middle East as well as people of Anglo background. Many of our migrant members are busy establishing themselves in this country, working very hard and seeking blessing and community in the church. This group has particularly been feeling adrift as Sunday worship is their main contact. Phone calls [often go unanswered] due to working shifts.”
Unfortunately, Blacktown’s Tongan-language service has not been able to continue during lockdown. Rev. Barr has been recording services with contributions from different members of the congregation and uploading them to YouTube each week. Pastoral care has taken the form of a Zoom morning tea each Sunday, and phone calls to older congregants with less access to technology.
“Like many places, people have been very distressed when they have not been able to visit family members who are dying,” said Rev. Barr. “Some who struggle with difficult relationships and who are vulnerable to mental health issues and homelessness in normal times, relying on… charities for shelter, food, and medicines, have found these supports closed to them.”
Compared to 2020, “this lockdown is much harder mentally and emotionally because it has gone on much longer without knowing when we will regather… This time ministries that survived through the last time, e.g. our Community Garden, have suffered as people are more restricted.”
Rev. Barr told Insights, “People have gone more within themselves, and the curfew has brought an eerie silence in a usually dynamic, busy 24-hour city. For those who have lost work, the lack of JobKeeper support has made them more vulnerable and stressed.”
Many in the Blacktown congregation are essential workers in the aged care and manufacturing industries, and cannot work from home. Others live with extended family, making them more susceptible to the spread of the Delta variant, or are struggling to work and care for children without the support of grandparents. Adolescents are also doing it tough “as they miss rites of passage, their need for space to discover identity, and enjoying peer company is denied” as well as limited access to devices.
However, Blacktown Uniting Church are also daring to imagine the future: “There has been a lot of discussion in Zoom meetings within our leadership group about what we are learning and what the church will look like when all this is over. COVID-19 has, on the positive side, enabled people with different gifts to step up. On the other hand, there have been key lay leaders who have shouldered a lot of responsibility.”
Gabrielle Cadenhead is a mission worker for Christian Students Uniting at the University of Sydney