By Robyn Douglass
On a Saturday morning in suburban Adelaide, Australia, the smell of barbecued sausages is particularly inviting in the chilly air. As people rush to do the weekly shopping and parents ferry children to weekend sports, the Anglican church in Norwood has thrown its doors open and chalked inviting messages on the pavement.
Senior Associate Minister Simon Jackson and a team of volunteers are manning the “sausage sizzle” in the church’s pretty front yard, a street back from a major retail zone.
People drop in for breakfast and lunch at the day-long festival, “Blanket Adelaide with Love.” The church has invited people to bring blankets, sleeping bags, and warm clothes for needy people in the city. As winter descends and the plight of the homeless becomes more acute, the parish will take the gifts to the Anglican welfare agency for distribution.
“Blanket Adelaide” has been well promoted through newspaper articles and a little postcard dropped in letterboxes throughout the area. During the festival, a stream of people come in with bags and parcels and leave them inside the church, and there is a friendly greeting for all.
The festival is about outreach — and not just to the poor and hungry.
“It’s part of a wave of attempts to raise our profile in the community,” Jackson said. “Not that they were doing anything wrong in the past, but this is an attempt to reconnect with people.
“Grace Anglican Network is a fresh face of the church.”
Grace used to be known as St Bartholomew’s. While still St. Bart’s, it is now part of a bigger cluster of Anglican churches in the area. Grace Network, Jackson said, tells the world that the church is still alive and kicking.
Senior Minister and Archdeacon David Bassett said two churches entered into a covenant agreement 14 years ago. They share staff and a parish council, and they can use their strengths to serve different parts of the community. Different sites offer different potential — at one church near a home for elderly people, a Wednesday service, followed by lunch, is a popular event. The youth service on Sunday evenings recently moved to the church closer to the restaurant scene, so young people can come to church and then wander off for dinner. Grace Network has planted a third congregation in a local bowling club, with a focus on the migrant community.
The team of four clergy is supported by a full-time youth pastor, office administrator, accountant, and music coordinator, allowing the clergy to play to their strengths. It is all on an annual budget of AU$800,000 (US$575,000) — “all donated, we have no reserves,” Bassett said.
Rebadging the existing Anglican churches has been part of the changes, a common approach in the Diocese of Sydney, where Jackson trained.
Bassett said of the saints’ names that “people think we are Catholic, or so old-fashioned. We wanted to relate to where people are, with a religious but commonly used word.
“It’s as if we stopped somewhere in the 1900s,” he said. “Grace Anglican Network is working at being connected in every generation.”
Jackson said census figures show that “sixty percent of Australians still believe in God, but it’s not part of the culture any more. On Sundays, people are in the cafes going out to breakfast.”
For Grace Network, the existing buildings are still a landmark — but also a liability.
“We are trapped by beautiful buildings,” he said. “And we are trying to deal with the perception that the church is irrelevant or dangerous.”
Jackson acknowledged the damage done by the scandal of abuse in the church. He said the government’s royal commission, a federal inquiry into that abuse, has been “brilliant” for the church to acknowledge its corporate sin — and deal with it.
In this time of change, Grace Network aims to be a fresh, Christian presence for the Anglican community. “We’re here to share the love of Jesus as much as we can,” Jackson said.
Photo: Senior Associate Minister Simon Jackson of Grace Anglican Network.