Corio church an ark that meets diverse needs

St Andrew's wide range of ministries aim to serve an increasingly diverse - and needy - community.

By Mark Brolly

May 7 2019St Andrew’s church, the heart of the Anglican Parish of Corio-Norlane in Geelong’s northern suburbs, was built 21 years ago, shaped like the bow of a ship. It might better be called an ark because it draws people not only from across Geelong but from some of the places of greatest need in the world.

Archbishop Philip Freier appeared in a series of videos before the 2016 federal election on issues facing voters and in one based in Corio, entitled Change & Challenge: Halting Decline in Disadvantaged Suburbs, he said: “It’s clear that Corio has a wonderfully inclusive sense of community, despite the disadvantages of the area. Yet there’s a palpable feeling among some in the community that they’ve been neglected by the outside, particularly successive governments from across the political spectrum.”

With another election looming, TMA visited Corio to report on the parish’s own ministries among its community, one of the most disadvantaged postcodes in Australia, as well as providing a base for the Anglican Church’s Geelong-wide work of G-RAP – Geelong Refugee Assistance Program (formerly known as GASON, the Geelong Anglican Social Outreach Network).

The Vicar of St Andrew’s, the Revd David Milford, said: “There are lots of outsiders who come in from outside Corio and do a lot of good here.”

One is Mrs Hilary Hoevenaars, Deputy Chair of G-RAP, whose home parish is St John’s Highton.

Mrs Hoevenaars said the name G-RAP was adopted in 2015 to reflect the changed focus of the care provided, with an influx of refugees and asylum seekers to the Geelong region.

“With the Archdeacon of Geelong acting as the Chair of G-RAP over the past several years, and a committee of eight, we rely on the financial support of the Anglican parishes of Geelong, along with their generous donations of time and material goods, to provide our two main areas of ministry, primarily located at St Andrew’s Corio, within easy access of the first homes of a number of our refugee and asylum seeker neighbours,” she said.

G-RAP runs two ministries out of St Andrew’s: a material aid distribution program on the first Saturday of the month for 11 months of the year in which donated household goods, furniture and clothing are made available to those in need. This usually draws more than 50 people.

Volunteers at the St Andrew's Corio Food Shed

For the past 18 months, Gathering Place has brought together women for friendship, conversation, refreshment, craft activities and fun on Tuesdays during school terms at St Andrew’s, with care for any pre-school children they bring. About 40 women attend – from Iraq, Afghanistan, and sometimes Syrians and Karen people from Myanmar.

“They’ve been in Australia from weeks to years,” Mrs Hoevenaars says.

A similar monthly program, Shlama (Peace), operates at St Alban’s Hamlyn Heights or in a private home.

Among the women who volunteer are early childhood educators, a clinical psychologist, nurse, occupational therapist, dietician and social worker.

“I did three short-term mission trips to Tanzania with CMS, which opened my eyes to what it’s like to live in a foreign culture and I can well understand how bewildering [it is] – and I didn’t arrive with the trauma that most of these people are arriving with,” Mrs Hoevenaars says.

Another “outsider” at Corio is Ms Jill Giddings, Coordinator of the Homework Club – a parish partnership with Anglicare.

In the first term this year, the Club helped 54 children from refugee backgrounds with their English on Wednesday afternoons. For the rest of the year, the Club will also convene on Tuesdays, with students and staff from Kardinia International College and Geelong Grammar acting as volunteer tutors and mentors.

Most of the children are from Myanmar via Thai refugee camps, while others are Iraqis who have come to Australia via Afghanistan.

“The whole thing with this Homework Club in particular, it’s a lot about building relationships,” Ms Giddings, who worships at Bellarine Gateway Anglican Parish (Leopold, Whittington and Newcomb), said.

“The volunteers are regular ... and sometimes for a number of years in a row. The high school students love it and if they can, they’ll keep coming. They’re under pressure in Year 12 halfway through the year, usually they have to stop. But they’ll start coming in Year 9 and 10 and they’ll come for years and build relationships with children here.”

Of course, people from Corio and Norlane are also deeply involved in the work of the parish.

Mrs Jackie Smith is Coordinator of The Bridge (St Andrew’s op shop), which has been going for 25 years and is open four days a week.

“A lot of the people come in every day, they’re lonely and they want someone to talk to,” Mrs Smith said. “I think it’s every bit as much about that [as buying goods at the op shop].

“We do get one lady who comes, she lives in Melbourne but she comes through Corio and she always comes here. She always spends quite a lot of money.

“My neighbours know I work here, they just drop stuff at my front door and I think some of the other ladies are the same.”

The Supervisor of St Andrew’s Food Shed, “Corio born and bred” Mr Derek Wyse, said his outlet attracts at least 40 people a week from Tuesdays to Fridays between 10am and 3pm.

He said there had been a big increase in demand for emergency assistance parcels not so much from people hit by the closure of plants such as Ford in recent years as refugees and other new arrivals in the area.

“They’re supposed to be just emergency assistance parcels, just to keep them going through hard times, like they’ve got a few bills or are a bit short of cash,” he said.

“We do the best we can with what we’ve got.

“Of course, the op shop pays for a lot of the food and we get donations from a lot of other churches around Geelong.”

Mr Milford said the parish spends about $10,000 a year on food, with recipients entitled to a monthly parcel – containing items such as cereal, spaghetti, milk, margarine, fruit and vegetables. He said the op shop made about $20,000, with $10,000 going to the church and $10,000 to the Food Shed.

The parish has 97 people on its roll, of which about 60 are Karen, with more than 100 people attending Sunday services.

Mr Milford said the Karen have an afternoon service in their own language but many also attend the morning service for Holy Communion.

“We’re blessed by refugees here,” he said.