2 February 2023

The ‘broken, resplendent’ church embracing diversity in Hoppers Crossing

Vicar Glenn Buijs standing outside Epiphany Anglican Church. Image: Kirralee Nicolle.

Kirralee Nicolle

22 December 2022

A pair of old buildings sit on a corner lot thick with weeds. A beam with three columns extends from the main building towards the carpark. The columns are painted render in green, red and purple.

Large chunks of render are missing.

Inside the main building is a large mural depicting safari animals. Rows of faded chairs face a simplified sound system and African percussion instruments. Under a wooden cross, an altar with orthodox symbols.

In front of the second building a discarded mug pokes up from the grass. The door has been bolted shut. Inside, blinds open to reveal arcade games and rolled up Southeast Asian mats.

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This is Epiphany Anglican Church in Hoppers Crossing, west of Melbourne’s centre. It boasts parishioners from more than 15 different nations including Korea, India, Myanmar, Nigeria and South Sudan.

Vicar the Venerable Glenn Buijs hasn’t come from any of these backgrounds himself. He grew up in a white Australian family in Greensborough, Victoria.

Mr Buijs says the power he holds at Epiphany used to be something that made him cringe, but now he seeks to better understand how his power functions.

“I’m white, I’m male, I’m educated, I’ve got a lot of power,” he says. “What do you do with it, and how do you use that in a constructive way? For me, true humility [is] where you can operate in a way where you are leading people, but they don’t even necessarily know that that’s what you’re doing.”

He has not only led Epiphany for the past five years, but is also Archdeacon of Williamstown, an Australian Army Archdeacon and runs an overseas aid organisation. Some of the initiatives that have begun in his time at Epiphany include a Foodbank, community house, health and wellbeing magazine and regular overseas mission programs.

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The church is currently planning to construct a new building with funds raised by the community. They are regularly seeking new ways to foster deeper connections with the local areas of Hoppers Crossing and Tarneit.

But a multicultural church like Epiphany also has its quirks.

Mr Buijs says it takes a long time to be accepted in many of the cultures at Epiphany, and to adapt to a new set of cultural norms.

One example of this is a traditional African funeral ceremony. He says a funeral can take 48 hours of eating, sleeping and singing.

“You just need to be there,” he says. “The half hour phone call isn’t going to work.”

Mr Buijs says there are further challenges for diverse people groups in a growth corridor. Language barriers can be partially overcome with hugs and smiles for some cultural groups, but others are typically less physically forward in their greetings. Many in the church are not on permanent visas and have only casual work, making finances tight. Many conceal carry knives, even to Sunday services. Relationships between parishioners can be complicated.

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“Everything that you would normally do becomes complex for those reasons,” he says. “It’s about cultural awareness, sensitivity and engagement.”

Crime is a concern at Epiphany. Mr Buijs tells of seeing teenagers in the church on the evening news and calling their parents to notify them.

“You ring up and you say, ‘oh, how’s so and so’?” he says. “’Oh, he’s fine.’ ‘May I speak to him?’ ‘Oh no, he’s in the bedroom asleep.’ ‘Well, no he’s not, he’s on TV’.”

The former assistant minister at Epiphany the Reverend Trish Hunt is a priest with a long history of military service. She recently re-entered the military in a full-time capacity as an army chaplain.

Mr Buijs says because Ms Hunt is female and had just three years to integrate into the parish, her role had been accepted but she had not been welcomed so easily. Despite this, Ms Hunt says she felt prepared for the cross-cultural nature of the work through her Army background.

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“I am pretty certain there are people in our church [who] don’t like the fact that there’s a female priest,” she says. “You’ve just gotta go, ‘I’m not going to take offense at this’.”

Mr Buijs says he recognises that cross-cultural ministry in an evangelical setting can at times be too conversion-focused and not holistic enough.

“You don’t want to take off the evangelistic part because we do it and we need to define why we do it, but we can’t be so hard-edged at the same time,” he says.

As Mr Buijs describes the challenges of the work, he begins to reflect on the significance of Epiphany.

“It’s the broken, resplendent community of God,” he says. “We’re a community of broken, fragile people. But collectively, we’re more. And that’s the joy.

“You’ve got to love it.”

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