Karina Zanchetta cannot hide a laugh when she explains that, while a member of the George Town Uniting Church she represents the Catholics on the local ecumenical body because her husband, Renato, is on the local Catholic parish council but cannot make it to the meetings.
Churches working together in union – under the banner of the George Town Combined Christian Church Leadership (GTCCCL) – is very much part of life in the small north-eastern Tasmanian town.
The local Uniting, the Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Salvation Army and Pentecostal churches have worked alongside one another in a display of Christian unity for decades.
Mrs Zanchetta said working together had always been in the DNA of the local churches.
“Our ‘Know Your Bible’ events attract a broad cross section of people. It is never a case of ‘it is ours and you can’t come to it’,’’ she said.
Mrs Zanchetta said the spirit of working together epitomised a town which was populated by a large contingent of European migrants in the 1950s seeking opportunities in a flourishing heavy industry sector which made its home in the valley.
“It was a migrant town then and they rallied around each other because they were different.”
While each is relatively small in numbers – the Uniting Church has about 12 adult members – as a group they are strong and provide many willing workers eager to spread the word through a range of activities in their local community.
The Uniting Church has been at the forefront of the combined activities, beginning with the Seafarers’ Mission which began in the late 1980s.
The mission – which Mrs Zanchetta chairs and is supported by fellow Uniting Churchers Garry Jones (co-ordinator) and treasurer Beryl Osborne – started as a combined venture in 1989 between the UCA, the Anglican Mission to Seafarers and the Catholic Apostleship of the Sea and opens its arms to all seafarers who arrive at the Bell Bay port. It owes its continued operation to about 10 loyal volunteers, many of whom are from the Uniting Church.
As well as the churches, the mission is supported, both financially and in-kind, by the International Transport Federation, the Australian Maritime Welfare Society and Tasports, which supplies the building at a peppercorn rental and provides much needed maintenance.
Each year the GTCCCL combines for a Stations of the Cross procession pilgrimage which finishes at one of the local churches with a service, which was hosted by the Uniting Church this year.
ABU – standing for Anglican, Baptist and Uniting – combined services are held on the third Sunday of each month rotating between the churches of the three.
Last year the churches donated $1200 to support the provision of a chaplain at the South George Town and Port Dalrymple Primary Schools.
Sports days, barbecues and celebrations on Anzac Day and Australia are all celebrated in the spirit of ecumenism in George Town.
The churches have always combined for World Day of Prayer events and on Christmas Day the Uniting Church and Baptist Church combine, holding services on alternate years in their respective churches.
Uniting Church member Mary Gillard said the churches had come to operate in a very similar fashion.
GTCCCL chairwoman and Anglican minister Rev Trish Anderson said there is a strong belief in the spirit of ecumenism from all church leaders in the area.
“We find it easy because we know there is diversity but we are accepting of each other and get on well together even though the leadership has changed over the years,’’ Ms Anderson said.
Captain Dean Hill, from the Salvation Army, said he had been impressed by the expressions of Christian unity he had seen in George Town.
“People are happy to be involved with each other and that is encouraging,” he said.