“God is already at mission”
In 2018, Rev. Phil Newton finished up as Chaplain at the University of Wollongong to take on a highly experimental new role. Working in South West Sydney, he now helps Parramatta Nepean Presbytery find new spaces where the church can grow. More recently, he was joined in July 2019 by Rev. Christine Palmer in a similar role. God, they say, has gone on ahead of them.
The role of Community Animator has involved working to establish new worship communities in Sydney’s Southwest Growth Corridor.
“It has been a little surreal as in one sense we are in the suburbs (albeit brand new suburbs), but these aren’t like the typical Australian suburbs we grew up in,” Rev. Newton said.
“Mortgage pressure, time poverty, lack of natural spaces to connect with other families, all contribute to isolation and a longing for communities of care and support.”
The role of Community Animator involves church planting, but Rev. Newton told Insights that this term might be misleading.
“While ‘church plant’ has some use in describing what we are doing, it is not the whole picture,” he said.
“We are placed in the south west on the ground to build genuine and authentic relationships and community. We are wrestling with what it means to be church in these disparate and diverse communities.”
“We are looking for where God is already at mission and finding ways to name that, support that and participate in that,” Rev. Newton said.
The role of Community Animator involves making connections and building relationships, at a grass roots level, and building relationships with other local community organisations.
Both Community Animators said that they had seen God at work already. Rev. Palmer said that it had been surprising for her to see “God already at work in our community.”
“There are glimpses of the Kingdom of God all around us,” she said.
“I see God in the way that some of the streets in our suburb have developed their own communities of connection, in the way my neighbour mows my lawn for me without any expectation of returning the favour.
“I see the Kingdom of God in the way that strangers came together over Christmas to raise funds and equipment for those suffering from the fires and for the local RFS; and in the way our community shares information with one another on our local Facebook page. It’s a humbling lesson to realise we have much to learn by joining in and being willing to be guests in our community.”
This has included establishing a small ‘house church’ consisting of, “a few households that meets weekly for communion, food, laughter, sharing, prayer and study.”
“It is truly intergenerational, with the kids participating in communion and the reflective elements as we all explore what it means to be the people of God in this place together,” Rev. Newton said.
“We ask the church to pray for us and to pray for the community in the place. We believe God’s love extends to all and goes before us, and we hope in the power of that love to transform, heal, and make whole. We very much feel and appreciate the prayers, well-wishes and support that we receive from the wider church.”