Lithgow grows in fresh expressions
Just beyond the Blue Mountains, Lithgow is a major regional centre with a rich history, and a tradition as a mining town. Hoskins Memorial Uniting Church is a local institution with its own legacy… and a bold approach to future outreach.
Originally built as a Presbyterian Church, Hoskins Memorial was commissioned by Lithgow’s ironmaster, Charles Hoskins, in tribute to his son Guildford after the latter died in an explosion.
The church opened in 1928, two years after Charles’ death, and became part of the Uniting Church in 1977.
The Hoskins family’s original vision of the church as a vital part of the wider community remains intact today, with a varied local ministry that has made the church well known.
The shape of Lithgow’s ministry has evolved over time, with a bold new direction embraced recently. Hoskins Memorial has started a “Fresh Expressions” ministry, to provide Joshua Bleyerveen and his wife Jasmin moved to Lithgow on Easter weekend 2016. in a lay Pastor role.
“The church council started talking about this being a good time to reflect on where we are and where we want to go and maybe a time to plan a bit more intentionally about our structures,” explains Reverend Matthew Trounce.
According to Rev. Trounce, many locals view the Uniting Church as “the church…in Lithgow”. That’s not just because of its status as part of Hoskins’ industrial legacy (the church building has received Heritage listing).
One of the reasons Hoskins Memorial is so well-known is the Beehive, which runs more than thirty groups — “everything from quilt making… to a ballroom dancing group.” These goups operate out of the church’s 25 year-old parish centre.
Check out the Beehive
Rev. Trounce has been in ministry at Lithgow for the past seven and a half years. He noticed early on that the church “has some absolutely brilliant services and that’s partly because of the inheritance that we’ve got of an incredible church [building]… and grounds and we’re really a community-based church, really open and known in the community.”
“A lot of people I’ve spoken to said, “I moved to town and someone said, ‘Go and check out the Beehive.’”
Connecting these varied ministries to the life of the church itself is a challenge Hoskins Memorial has acknowledged, though. “We had all these [groups] which were kind of running, but the question for the church was… with all these [groups] through the week… how do we help people explore faith, spirituality, discipleship and even Christian community?,” reflects Rev. Trounce about the outreach opportunities due to the Beehive.
In order to work out ways to connect these groups with the church, the Congregation hired Mr Bleyerveen. “We said we need someone to help develop further this idea of Christian community for people that are connected to us in these service groups,” explains Rev. Trounce. “It seemed like the next natural step for us. We had set up some fantastic services that were growing… more than we could deal with.
“While I think everyone in leadership in the Lithgow parish acknowledges they’re an end in themselves, if we’re really about the Gospel, Christian community, faith development and disciple-ship, there’s… another step we were missing.”
Taking the next step
Rev. Trounce observes that the people who attend groups at the Beehive “don’t most naturally feed into or connect with that 9:30 traditional Congregation.” While he describes the Hoskins Memorial Congregation as traditional and largely elderly, Rev. Trounce loves how it is “very open and welcoming and community-focused”.
Bridging the gap, then, between the Beehive and joining the Congregation, is where Mr Bleyerveen comes in. His first priority is exploring new forms of Christian community, discipleship, and faith development. “The idea [is] that the people that we’re going to be working with will be coming from our service groups, [people] we have already made connections and relationships with,” says Rev Trounce.
Norman McFarland agrees. Chairperson of Lithgow’s joint church council, and a lay preacher at Hoskins Memorial, Mr McFarland says the “Fresh Expressions” ministry “is a process that’s going to take a little while”.
But foundations have been laid and “new people… are not going to be pew sitters. They’re going to experience our church in new ways.” Future activities being considered include discussion groups and events similar to Ted Talks.
Mr McFarland said Mr Bleyerveen “certainly has the ability to start to talk to people where they’re at… not only with younger people.”
Dr Jonathan Foye
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