The new 'normal’ that we have entered into can certainly bring changes to how we as a church undertake international mission. However, despite this challenge we encourage reflection on the importance of partnerships, solidarity for social justice issues and ecumenical sharing.
UnitingCare Emergency Relief Centres: the tale of two churches
By Rev Lyn Leane
Posted in Culture
When the coronavirus broke out in Australia and changed all our lives, UnitingCare SA looked to churches who were delivering emergency food relief to continue being the church to the rest of the community by transforming into UnitingCare Emergency Relief Centres (ERC).
One such church was Modbury Uniting Church who already operated an existing emergency relief program strategically close to Tea Tree Plaza, the O-Bahn and Tea Tree Gully Council offices. However, the volunteers, like those of many other churches, suddenly found they could no longer participate due to the new SA Health advice which strongly recommended that those of 70+ years stay at home during the current crisis.
UnitingCare SA encouraged Modbury UC to partner with The Journey Uniting Church in the next suburb to create UnitingCare Modbury. Both churches have been increasingly aware of the spiralling needs in the north-east region of Adelaide, as the economic fallout of COVID-19 began to bite. As elsewhere, students and young people began to lose their jobs, particularly in hospitality, and households which only a week before had been quietly paying off their mortgages, found they were without an income.
Forging a partnership
We decided it was time to act. Rev Andy Hogarth (The Journey UC) and I received UnitingCare SA’s invitation as a fresh opportunity for our churches to connect locally.
Andy says, “What Rev Tim Hodgson and the UnitingCare SA team have provided is a way for local Christians and other community people to serve at a critical time. Sheila and Priscilla (from The Journey) and Lyn and the Modbury team have been amazing! I feel I’ve been given a front row seat to a ‘heaven meets earth’ moment just like Jesus prayed with us in the Lord’s Prayer; it’s a beautiful sight!”
The people of both Modbury and Journey UC congregations were also eager to participate. At Modbury, a new cohort of mostly 60-somethings stepped up as volunteers. Jeff Andrews (pictured), who will serve as the Workplace Health & Safety officer for the Emergency Relief Centre, commented, “At times like these we can feel a bit lost. Usual routines and commitments are gone or changed. When this idea of an ERC was raised I just felt I wanted to get involved and help out. I feel very lucky to have what I have in life and now I can share a bit of that time and experience to help those in need.”
Modbury Church Council Chair and ERC volunteer, Robyn Sykes, also noted that the current social isolation has resulted in many people experiencing a lack of purpose and a sense of helplessness and is grateful that “UnitingCare SA has given us this amazing opportunity to work collaboratively with surrounding churches by helping neighbours in the north-eastern suburbs who are doing it tough. This ERC is our churches’ way of connecting with community, feeding the hungry as Jesus asked us to do,” Robyn said. “People of all ages once again have the opportunity to contribute in some way. I’m truly blessed and excited to be a part of this.”
At The Journey UC, Sheila Roxby and Priscilla Keneally volunteered to coordinate their congregation’s response, find more volunteers, and participate in a joint steering team.
Those who fall through the cracks
Sheila (pictured) had already been active in her local area. She explains:
“When this pandemic first started to unfold in Australia and in SA, I felt that we were just watching this storm come to our community, unable to help with much more than hygiene and social distancing. Early on I set up a community Facebook page for my local area and saw that there was plenty that could be done and plenty of people who both needed help and who wanted to help. I see how much this crisis has brought our community together in this space. The generosity I've seen from our community has been tremendous and so when I was contacted by Andrew Hogarth to join this program I felt overjoyed. To be able to serve the wider Modbury community in such a way is an absolute blessing from God and I'm extremely grateful for it. To be able to help people who never thought they would need it, is an honour and I imagine it will also bring our community together just as we've seen elsewhere. This isn't just a program, this is a heartbeat for the local community in a time of increased need and I'm very excited to be a part of that!”
Priscilla was alert to the needs of those who were likely slipping through the cracks in the north-east of Adelaide, particularly the refugees, asylum seekers and students: “We have a large group of international students and asylum seekers in our neighbourhood who, to my knowledge, have no government support through this time; people who have lost jobs and are unable to travel back home. This is the perfect way to reach out to our neighbours and let them know they are not alone.”
Opening on 7 May
To date, there are over 20 volunteers who will serve at the UnitingCare Modbury Emergency Relief Centre. Some will be on the “front line”, packing and distributing food parcels in keeping with current COVID-19 safety and hygiene requirements. Others will be drivers, picking up food items from collection points around the north-eastern suburbs. Preparations are in full swing: Safe Church checks are underway as necessary, and the volunteer team is training for their roles using a UnitingCare SA training package. “Feeder churches” around the north-east of Adelaide have been invited to collect dried and canned goods for food parcels, and the team is building vital community links with politicians, local councils, police, correctional services, supermarkets and food outlets.
Rev Tim Hodgson, Julianne Rogers and Ann Cotton of UnitingCare SA coordinate a weekly online conference which enables participating centres across SA to share reports, stories and advice. This empowers all centres by providing structure, resources, training and accountability, and has enabled the new Modbury ERC to form much faster than would otherwise have been possible.
The UnitingCare Modbury ERC will open on Thursday 7 May.
All Uniting Churches are encouraged to partner up with a UnitingCare Emergency Relief Centre to help supply volunteers, food and funds to purchase food. Find out more: https://sa.uca.org.au/unitingcare-sa/
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