Living in Community: Homage to Epworth House
It was my first O-Week at the University of Sydney in February 2016, and I knew what I was looking for. Uniting Church born and bred, I had no doubt that Christian Students Uniting (CSU) was the place for me. I signed up to the club and attended my first Bible study the next week. Immediately it felt like home: a space of welcome, of challenge, of deep questions and few answers.
After a several weeks of participating in CSU Bible Studies, I sought out a church. Venturing out on my own for the first time, there was a sense of freedom in being able to choose where I would worship – previously, my church attendance had been determined by my dad’s placement as a minister. I asked the chaplain and mission workers of CSU for church recommendations, and at the top of the list was Leichhardt Uniting Church (LUC).
The first time I attended LUC, I ran into a friend I knew through Uniting Church circles in the Hunter Valley and discovered that we had both moved to Sydney for university. When she told me that she lived next door to the church, I knew that I wanted to live there too.
At LUC, I found a congregation full of young adults who took theology seriously, who cared deeply about justice, and who welcomed all. Epworth House is an extension of this welcome, a community largely comprised of students who do life and faith together. With 24 rooms, a communal kitchen, a cozy lounge room, and a rooftop garden, it falls somewhere between residential college and share house.
Living in community at Epworth House was one of the most formative experiences of my life, as I grew into early adulthood and into my faith. It taught me empathy for people with different life experiences and different theological backgrounds. It taught me that my mental health is not something I must bear alone and that it is okay to lean on those around you. It provided a supportive environment for learning to be independent, and for interrogating my beliefs.
While not so healthy for my sleep schedule, living at Epworth House allowed for deep theological discussions at all hours of the night. Whether we were unlearning purity culture, grappling with questions about an afterlife, or discussing the historicity of Jesus, the lounge room always felt like a safe space for exploring faith. It was wonderful to be able to attend church, and then come home to play board games and reflect on the service together.
Christian Students Uniting’s initiative to organise the church for climate action was born out of that lounge room. Jam sessions that blurred the line between worship music and folk music have happened in that lounge room. House dinners have filled that lounge room with food and laughter and light. Deep friendships were forged in that lounge room that I will carry with me for life.
None of this is possible without the support of LUC. As a community of worshipers, LUC welcomes the residents of Epworth House and encourages them to participate in church services using their different gifts. The staff and elders of the congregation are an invaluable support system, providing practical and pastoral care to residents.
The LUC congregation would not still exist without tertiary ministry, and the influx of young people through Christian Students Uniting and Epworth House has revitalised the community. Epworth House is one part of a system designed to support young people in the Uniting Church through tertiary ministry, affordable housing, and participation in the worship life of a congregation. This model represents a way forward for parts of the church that own property but whose congregations dwindle in number.
Twenty twenty, my final year at Epworth House, brought COVID-19 restrictions and a forced closeness, which blossomed into deeper friendships. Toward the end of my time there, I facilitated creative writing workshops for my housemates, to give them an outlet for self-expression in the midst of the pandemic. These workshops culminated in Unintentional: An Epworth House Zine, which I edited and Sybil Mendonca designed.
To quote my own editorial, “This zine captures the chaos and the hope of 2020 in a diverse array of poetry and prose, reflecting the experiences and creativity of the residents of Epworth House.”
“As some of us move on to the next chapter of our lives, Unintentional is a parting gift to this wonderful, chaotic, caring house of which we have been so fortunate to be a part. 2020 has been a tough year for many of us, but this community has come out of it stronger. This unthemed zine is as eclectic as the people who make up this house, and as beautifully varied as the experience of living here.”
I lived at Epworth House for four years, from 2017-2020. It is a place that still welcomes me when I visit, and which truly felt like home as I was learning what home means. I would not be the disciple I am today without Epworth House.
Epworth House is now accepting residency applications.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is Insights’ intern