Church life in inner Sydney
Since we can always get ideas from each other, the people of South Sydney Uniting Church (Redfern/Waterloo) share what they are doing — hoping that other congregations will also share.
Around ten years ago, our average congregation was around six people. We now have about 50 people associated with us and an average of around 30 attending each Sunday.
Most of these people are between 40 and 55 years of age.
Why did they join us?
Tom says, “I started going to the Waterloo Uniting Church in January 2012 as a very good friend said I might like it and as I was going through a lot of stress and upsets in my life. I found that people are not pushy and forcing religion down your throat and I liked the laid back feel.
“I quickly found myself accepted and I look forward to Sundays there and I get my peace and warmth that makes me forget my troubles for a while and that’s nice.”
David says, “I realised that morning that there was a community of people who were wounded and damaged and alienated, in all sorts of ways, as I am. I felt at home and I had a place to belong — at last!”
Naomi says, “It has been through the teachings here, as well as the realness and vulnerability of people sharing from this congregation, that my spirituality is changing.
“I am becoming more whole and free. To me, being a Christian means that I allow my heart and mind to receive God’s unconditional, abundant nurturing love through Jesus. It is because I am loved that I am then able to love others.”
Probably the most significant project we have is the free local paper which we began a decade ago because we felt that the mainstream media only gave bad news about our area and did not encourage real discussion about important issues.
South Sydney’s Mission Statement
“Open to God at work in the world, we seek to be a Spirited community of peace and justice, faithfulness and respect for difference. With Christ we dare to be real and honest about our lives, sharing gifts of friendship and hope with each other and with our neighbours.”
The paper is a 16-page monthly tabloid. Apart from the designer, printer and our minister, the Rev. Andrew Collis, who is the Managing Editor, it is produced by volunteers.
Many of these are journalism students who love getting the experience and their work published. They are often referred to us by Sydney University or the University of Technology Sydney. We have 42 regular contributors.
Our 40 distributors are also volunteers and the paper is read by at least 30,000 people each month. It is very popular because it is not filled with ads, just enough to cover most of its costs.
The paper also connects us with many community leaders and groups. We include a regular Faith Column, similar to that which is in the Melbourne Age, and that indirectly informs people about what sort of church we are and what we believe.
The paper is called the South Sydney Herald. Our website is www.southsydneyherald.com.au.
Arts and gardens
We have an award-winning community garden behind the church.
It is mainly run by the Luncheon Club, including some men with HIV/AIDS, and grows beautiful vegetables, nourishes chooks and tadpoles and has a water tank with a recently painted mural on it.
Our hall is used each week to provide a sleeping place for homeless people, in cooperation with the Catholic Cana Communities, and we have just installed a shower for these guests, with another water tank and a solar hot water heater.
The hall is also used for our regular art classes for members of the local community, run by trained artists.
Their work is often displayed in our Orchard Gallery which is at the back of the church, together with other art exhibitions. We also have an artist-in-residence program, a regular writing group and six choirs and music groups use the church for their rehearsals and occasional concerts.
The church is also the regular pick-up place for Food Connect, which offers boxes of seasonal and organic groceries for people to buy direct from farmers as locally as possible.
On one wall of the church is the St Lydia’s Library to which people can donate books for other people to borrow.
We have regular prayer meetings, Bible study groups, sometimes workshops on various religious themes and, now and again, public forums on issues of justice.
Because we have a number of young children regularly attending our services, we now have a group of people who plan Sunday activities for them and involvement with the congregation.
We celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday and use a written responsive liturgy.
We have developed a practice of inviting people to reflect on a theme from the homily of the day and then to “complete the homily together” by coming forward and sharing a response as they place a symbol on the altar-table.
Andrew Collis and Dorothy McRae-McMahon have recently had three books published (one for each year of the lectionary) which share this way of completing the Word together.
Each year, we celebrate creation and people bring their pets, or photos of them, to the St Francis and St Clare service.
We also have a special service focused on Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) and a Sunday when we celebrate community and invite people from all the community groups to whom we relate and those who do work for our paper.
The church is always packed for this event and we share lunch and choir singing together afterwards.
Recently we had a church picnic with three-legged, egg-and-spoon and sack races, which was great fun!
Our church culture is inclusive and one where people laugh and cry together, holding each other during the challenges which life brings.
We ask the hard questions of God and search for truth together.