For the past 40 years, St Andrew’s Creative Living Centre in Bendigo has offered a place of welcome to local people living with emotional and psychiatric issues. Catherine Dennis is the director of the centre. She remembers the enthusiasm of the early days, when the St Andrew’s congregation responded to a speech given by church member Joan Thomas.
“Mrs Thomas bravely mounted the pulpit and told everyone of her dream for a place where people could come and find something interesting to do, and more importantly find acceptance and a listening ear in a loving and relaxed environment. After Joan’s talk things really got underway,” Ms Dennis said.
“It was an exciting time for the Church as we felt we were really reaching out to the community and were truly going to try to help people know themselves better and be more content.”
The centre worked closely with Dr Ashburner and Dr Bomford from the local psychiatric centre, which offered training to 20 women from the congregation. From the first day the centre grew and flourished. At one time 60 to 75 people attended regularly. They took part in craft lessons, joined in music sessions or just took the chance to talk with one another. A crèche ensured young mothers could attend.
“We shared in stories of joy and sorrow, send cards to absent friends and celebrated birthdays,” Ms Dennis said.
“In the early days people came from the psychiatric centre, welfare groups or were recommended by a doctor.
“We used to have annual picnics and annual open days with lunch and a concert, but times have changed and forty years is half a lifetime. Our numbers are now down to about 20, but we still have new people coming sometimes, which livens us up and we hope they are made to feel part of the family.”
The concept of people offering a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on has left a lasting mark on everyone involved.
“It has been a special blessing to see people blossom and become more confident both at Creative Living and in the community. All who have helped with the Creative Living Centre have shown how a living faith can help us move out from the church to people everywhere,” Ms Dennis said.
40 years of Creative Living will be acknowledged during the morning service on Sunday, 21 April at St Andrew’s UC Bendigo, with a morning tea to follow. A celebratory lunch will be held on Monday, 22 April.