NCLS Research

Creating community connections: from a senior minister's perspective

"I think the biggest challenge to understanding the local community is the diversity in the community. In Dapto there is the head of human resources for BHP through to a 100 or so indigenous people who feel marginalised." Rev. Stephen Semenchuk is the senior minister at St. Luke's Anglican Church in Dapto, NSW. "I feel you need to understand the people you are trying to reach so you can pick the right packaging for the universally applicable story of Jesus. If you understand the perceived needs of people in your community, you can then reflect on the right bridges to walk across to connect with them."

Having come to Dapto as senior minister in mid 2002, Stephen took a number of steps to better understand his community. He started first with his parishioners. "I spent time with people when I first arrived in the parish. I had people around for morning or afternoon tea or a meal so I could understand the Church from the inside. This is important when you then want to make the next step into the community."

To make the next step, Steve took a multi-faceted approach of both obtaining information and actually connecting with the community. "Unfortunately when I first arrived the census material for my area was not available. I have found this data to be really useful in the past particularly in relation to multicultural work and understanding the issues for second-generation people from ethnic backgrounds. So I did some door knocking and talking to people in the street. I also attended the chamber of commerce meetings and have met with some of the local business people. With the university here also being a big part of the community I have enrolled in some part time studies and have found that this mixing with people has also been helpful in connecting with the community. Recently, when I featured in a local newspaper's article on Anglicare, a number of those involved in my course came and spoke with me about it."

St. Lukes has also made some creative steps to connecting with their community. "For our preschool 50th anniversary we held a trivia night followed by a bush dance and then a church service, with the kids performing. The two things that worked brilliantly were the preschool director promoting that the message would only be 15 minutes long. We actually had people attend who were interested in seeing if I only went for that long, it became a draw card of sorts. We also had non-church parents sign up to help with the BBQ and set up. When they came, we rostered them to work alongside church people. Everyone had a job and there were more than 50% non-Christians. For many of them it was the most comfortable they were all day. It also gave them opportunity to form relationships with people from the Church."

One big challenge that St Lukes faces in their attempts to connect with the community relate to the amount of time people are in the community. Many choose to live in Dapto for lifestyle and financial reasons, and commute to Sydney for work. "One of the biggest issues we are facing is the transience of the community, most people are only around on the weekends and when they are here they are very busy. Commuting takes a lot of time out of a person's week."

Go To Dapto Anglican Church website

Does your church have its local community Census data?

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