Four weeks with the ‘Welcome’ Congregation in Parkes

Four weeks with the ‘Welcome’ Congregation in Parkes

In the hope of strengthening relationships between Congregation, Presbytery and Synod, and because I miss rural ministry, I offered the Macquarie Darling Presbytery (MDP) four weeks of my time. MDP elected to place with me with the Parkes ‘Welcome’ Congregation. I would continue my role as Associate Secretary, but also engage with the congregation as they felt most helpful.

I was housed in a granny flat overlooking the town. The property has an enormous cross that lights up at night. In the centre is a red heart. At night, you can see the cross from miles away. The couple who own the property offer this as a way of blessing the district.

The Welcome congregation are happy, engaged and active. The first Monday night event was feeding the community. The hall is divested of the usual worship arrangement as it becomes a dining room. Tables were beautifully set with linen tablecloths, flowers, Easter eggs, with not a plastic anything in sight. At 6pm, the doors were opened for 43 guests to be ushered in. Each person was greeted as though they were VIP dignitaries.

Each table had a pastoral person whose job was to network and facilitate conversation. The Head Waiter welcomed people officially and prayed a blessing on them and the food.

The menu this night was turkey mornay, mashed potato, carrots, peas and corn, with a fresh bread roll offered.

Work had begun the Thursday prior, with a number of donated turkeys deboned and cooked in readiness. The plates came back pristine. Not even a trace of food remained. Desert was apple crumble, with ice cream/cream, followed by tea and coffee.

The conversation was so enjoyable people didn’t want to go home, so the service crew ended up bringing their plates out to join in. I had the joy of being in the kitchen where it felt wonderful to be welcomed as part of their team.

Every person left feeling not only physically fed but encouraged and listened to. I felt proud to belong to a church who would go out of their way to make others feel seen and valued.

Life in a small town congregation is not easy. There is the usual stress of balancing home/work/ community/church commitments. People are aging and the next generation isn’t as interested as in previous eras. People move away. Just when you learn to love them and rely on them – they retire to the coast or move to be nearer their children – all of which is wonderful – but leaves a hole. When one much loved member moved away, 22 jobs became vacant. Finding willing people is not easy. As in many churches, the leadership is often taken for granted, with criticisms being communicated more often than thanks or encouragement.  

It is rare for a congregation to reply on an ordained minister. The laity are gifted, able, but weary. The demands are many and it is hard to think creatively about change when you are over-stretched with access to very few resources. Presbyteries face the same reality – too many processes for too few people. Yet the love these people have for the church, their community and each other is inspiring. They share life together, holding each other through the hard days and celebrating the good.

I loved preparing worship with a variety of switched on and gifted people. They gave of themselves in leading worship, without making worship about them.  Parkes is blessed with musical ability and the singing/playing is heartfelt. The music is not a performance in worship but reflects the sincerity and joy of active and vibrant faith.

As part of my time, I went out to Condobolin to see the ‘Freedom in Christ’ ministry run by Pastor Beth. Beth was away, but Pat showed us the set up. They used to have window air conditioners, but they were stolen. The guitars were also stolen, but an old one was found at the local tip and was patched up to do. Instead of bitterness and resentment for what they don’t have, there was only a humble gratitude to have anything at all. Whatever Synod could do to help would be just great.

We arrived to have a local person walk by and comment that the Korean church had just been out for a visit. The Cheil Congregation at Concord partner with the congregation and had just been out to share worship together. The local person was not a member of the church but knew who they were and what they did.

We then went to the Wiradjuri Centre. An initiative whereby an education and training centre was set  up by and for Wiradjuri people. It was extraordinary and well worth a drive to Condobolin to see it. Ali took us through, and his passion, energy and dedication to helping the young people transition into working careers was inspirational. He didn’t mind what had to change or evolve, as long as it helped the young people navigate a positive and productive life.

Having experienced the four-week block once, I am keen to visit other places.

If your stage of life means you could re-locate to another place for a few weeks, let me know. I would love to find a congregation for you to spend time with. You and they can expect to have a wonderful time and learn so much from each other.  know I did.

Thank you, Macquarie Darling Presbytery, and ‘Welcome’. I loved being with you.

Bronwyn Murphy, Associate Secretary, NSW and ACT Synod


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