Parishes, schools and agencies

From discos to markets - making new connections with the local community

Stories of urban ministryThe popular baby and kids' market at St John's Bentleigh is providing a valuable service, and connecting the church with the local community.

By Rachel McDougall

October 24 2016 

For 16 years St John's Bentleigh ran a highly successful disco. We went from 250 kids every month to 50. It was a great community service and was well known in our area, and yet one day it stopped drawing in kids.

So we closed it, said a grateful thank you to the volunteers and gave it great farewell. We waited to see what would happen next.

Our strong belief was that when one door closes, another opens.

And then one Sunday one of our young mums who had recently reaffirmed her faith suggested we try a baby and kids’ market. They are quite popular as a way of parents offloading things they no longer need as their children grow and for young families to pick up what they need at reasonable prices. People hire tables in the hall to sell their stuff. So we settled on dates, printed off fliers and circulated them to childcare centres. The Bentleigh baby and kids’ market was born.

The baby and kids' market is providing us more ways of engaging with members of our local community — both those who hire tables to sell stuff and those who come through our doors. We have been thinking about how we welcome people who come.

  • First we thought about what material we had available about who we are and what sorts of activities we offer.
  • We also turned our narthex into a lounge where people can sit and relax and kids can colour in (adults too), and there is a place for people to light a candle as a prayer.
  • We put on a sausage sizzle.
  • At the beginning we also had a coffee cart, but when the footy season started there were no coffee carts available so now we offer tea and coffee (real) and homemade treats in the lounge, which has provided occasions for conversations and connections.
  • Our children's and family minister has been running a stall at the market with her special fun dough with a sample for kids to try. This has led to opportunities for conversations and several new families joining our playgroups.

We have started a new playgroup as a result. This is creating new possibilities for us in building relationships with young families and providing a place where people can belong.

And it is the beginning of a process of making friends, so that the path to faith can begin.

After all, belonging comes before believing and this journey is about friends accompanying friends along the way as they explore who God might be for them.

The Revd Rachel McDougall is vicar of St John’s Bentleigh.

This story has been shared as part of Melbourne Bishop Genieve Blackwell's call to parishes in the Marmingatha Episcopate to share their stories of urban ministry. To find out how your parish can get involved, click here.