For the past seven decades, the church on the corner of North and Mackie Roads in Bentleigh East has served the local community. Originally operating as South Oakleigh Methodist Church (in what was then considered an outer-suburb), the congregation combined with East Bentleigh Presbyterian Church to become Coatesville Uniting Church after union.
Peter Heazlewood is a leader and church council member at Coatesville UC. He said the church motto – ‘A great place to belong’ – is more than just a catchy slogan.
“That’s what we believe – it truly is a great place to belong,” Mr Heazlewood said.
“The congregation is active and energetic and we are open to innovation and creativity in worship. Our approach is based on deep and considered reflection of what we believe God calls us to live out in our community and as part of the wider Church.”
Approximately 60 to 70 people regularly attend Sunday worship which, according to Mr Heazlewood, is best described as ‘progressive’.
“We have a four to five piece band that leads predominantly contemporary music, including the writing and performance of original music in worship, and will typically incorporate a traditional hymn each Sunday. “We encourage images, arts and drama during worship and the congregation is open to creative worship styles.”
Although the congregation is strong in numbers, like many churches in Australia, Coatesville faces the issue of an ageing congregation. But, as Mr Heazlewood explained, the church has intentionally extended its community beyond Sunday morning worship.
“During the week we have playgroups, a craft group, youth group, prayer group, bible study and home church groups.
“We have Uniting Church Adult Fellowship (UCAF), a pastoral group and social groups for varying ages. We have a number of young families and run a small though solid youth group.”
Congregation members also volunteer their time to Coatesville Community Care, run from the church for the past 10 years.
“Community Care provides an opportunity for people to discuss their issues and possible ways of overcoming them,” Mr Heazlewood said.
“It recognises the fact that in our region there are a significant number of families and individuals under financial pressure as a consequence of things like family breakdown, unemployment, disability and community disengagement.
“We have a commitment to empowering people to overcome their own problems. We also supply food vouchers and food donations when required.”
The importance of incorporating outreach into the life of the church is evident in an initiative that’s been running for the past 18 months. ‘Seasons’ is a program that dedicates each season of the year to focus on a particular area of need.
“Winter 2013 saw us – in addition to our usual activities – focussing on the subject of Healing,” Mr Heazlewood explained.
“During that season, we committed to informing ourselves about issues of healing, studying healing in the Word, engaging in creative exercises on the theme, identifying mission activities around healing and, importantly, engaging in prayer for healing in our community and across the world.”
Resource material is distributed to the various groups in the church; groups can then engage with the process to the extent that they chose. Activities, including prayer, are in the hands of each group, as well as being incorporated as part of general worship. As such, there is a community immersion in a particular theme. To date, Coatesville UC has held seasons of healing, hope, light and homelessness. They are currently working through a season of peace.
“Mission outcomes have been quite amazing,” Mr Heazlewood said.
“For example, during the Season of healing, members of the congregation (and beyond) started producing Red Cross ‘Trauma Teddies’ to comfort children subject to situations of trauma. Several hundred teddies later, we’re still engaged in this process – and participation in healing in the community continues.
“During the season of homelessness, one of the things we supported was the production and distribution of purpose-built backpacks for those in the community who sleep rough.
“These have been simple, but highly effective ways of focussing our thinking and praying, and realising real outreach outcomes in the community. Along the way we’ve created music, focussed Bible studies and celebrated the contributions and talents of our people.”
By Deb Bennett
Anyone interested in starting a ‘Seasons’ program at their church can contact Coatesville UC for resources and advice: www.greatplacetobelong.org.au