Hundreds of people recently attended the Port Phillip East Presbytery expo held at Cornish College.
Billed as an opportunity to share stories and highlight the various program across the life of the presbytery, organiser Rev Jay Robinson said it was also a chance to “look beyond your own backyard”.
“It originally began as a conversation about how we could share some of our learnings from the Uniting our future process,” Ms Robinson said.
“Then we thought what we actually need is an opportunity where the presbytery can come together and share what we’re all doing.”
As well as many congregations, agencies and representatives from the Centre for Theology and Ministry, the Justice and International Mission unit and Share also attended.
As a large presbytery, Ms Robinson said it was often difficult to be aware of the various projects occurring throughout the region.
“We cover quite a bit of distance so it was a good opportunity to gather people, not just congregations but agencies and schools in the presbytery, and share what we’re all doing.”
As well as the large geographical boundaries of the Port Phillip East Presbytery there is significant socio-economic and cultural diversity in the region – from the Dandenong region with its new migrant population to other, predominantly Anglo, communities.
Representatives from the broader Church community, such as Act for Peace, also attended with the hope of further energising church members to be involved with the missional life of the presbytery.
Presbytery minister mission and education, Rev Steve Terrell noted the various missional activities on show at the expo that are thriving, stressing that many are surprisingly easy to get off the ground.
“Today is really about all the fabulous things happening around the presbytery which often go largely unacknowledged,” he said.
“One of the most effective and easily delivered ideas is community gardens – we’ve got a number of them right throughout the presbytery.”
Mr Terrell said community gardens are particularly effective in building a sense of creativity and community engagement around local congregations and agencies.
“People can see things close enough to the answer they were hoping for or identify another opportunity in their area.”
As well as community gardens various other creative missional outreach initiatives were on display at the expo.
Rev Claire Dawe, a minister from the Chelsea parish, attended the expo and shared work occurring in the Chelsea area. One project involves yarn art installations highlighting the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, another is a free bus stop coffee and tea outreach program.
“It started with a service for refugees,” Ms Dawe said.
“People in our parish are really keen on supporting refugees and thought ‘what are we going to do next?’
“So our craft group and people on the outer edges of the church have created all this beautiful yarn art. We’ve yarn bombed our churches in blue – the refugee colour – and we are part of a much larger project in the Chelsea area which is run by the council. “But we’ve made ours to be focussed around the idea of ‘Jesus was a refugee’ with banners up on our churches.”
As well as sharing her congregation’s experiences working on these projects, Ms Dawe was keenly interested in neighbouring congregation’s projects.
Minister at the Dandenong Uniting Churches, Rev Dr Apwee Ting, also attended. Mr Ting highlighted the Dandenong churches’ work with diverse cultural groups.
As the Dandenong churches count five different cultural groups in its number, Mr Ting views ensuring the different groups are connected and working together as a key aspect of his role.
“We have so many different groups involved through the church,” he said.
“We have the Sudanese mothers and children activities, links with the neighbourhood house and we’re also involved with other groups supporting Sudanese migrants.
“Regularly we all mix together, the various multicultural groups, and share our ministry and look at how we can best serve the community.
“Our strength is working with a range of different cultural and language groups. Many congregations may not have links with many other groups so Dandenong is able to share that joyfulness of working together.”
Affirming the expo’s stated purpose, Mr Ting found the event helpful in sharing his church’s work and hearing from others across the presbytery.
“When I look at Glen Waverley I think they are doing very well in recycling and energy efficiency projects,” he said.
“They have a solar panel system and water tanks recycling water.
“I think that is something that we at Dandenong can learn from them as we’re looking at the possibilities of doing similar things.”