17 June 2024

Two parishes unite for stronger future

The Reverend Angela Cook will take over duties for the combined parishes of St Augustine’s and St Alban’s. Picture: Elspeth Kernebone.

Maya Pilbrow

20 March 2023

Two parishes in Melbourne’s inner-north are set to merge, to provide more space for a growing congregation at one and ordained leadership for another. 

St Augustine’s Merri-bek’s congregation has grown, and is now bursting out of its space, while St Alban’s Coburg West has been without a vicar for more than two years. 

To solve their problems, St Augustine’s will move in with St Alban’s.  

St Augustine’s parish priest the Reverend Angela Cook will take over duties for the combined congregations. 

Services under the new merger will start 30 April. 

Ms Cook said both parishes had historically been small, and the merger was a way to combine resources to better reach the community. 

She said the issues facing each parish were complementary.  

“[St Alban’s] have an outdoor space and a big church and a car park, but they have quite a small congregation,” Ms Cook said.  

St Augustine’s holds services in a former Salvation Army building on Sydney Road that has become too small for the congregation. 

The St Augustine’s congregation had changed in two ways that made the building unsuitable, according to Ms Cook. 

She said the number of parishioners had grown and the number of children attending church had increased. 

“We don’t have any outdoor space,” she said. “We got to a point where we were sort of full.” 

Read more: Unaddressed burnout, heavy workloads amid ordination shortage

Ms Cook said the merger was an opportunity for both church communities to figure out how best to reach a wide range of people. 

“We’re looking at different times for services, different styles,” she said.

Ms Cook said St Augustine’s was an evangelical church and that St Alban’s had a more reflective, liturgical style. 

“We’re trying to work out how to honour both of those traditions and keep seeing the church grow,” she said. 

St Alban’s incumbency committee member Roxanne Maule said St Alban’s had struggled with outreach due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a long period without an incumbent priest. 

She said she was excited to have more human resources to help with ministry. 

Ms Maule said the merger had caused excitement and trepidation among St Alban’s parishioners. 

“There’s always challenges with change. I think it’s probably been done as well as you could do a change process,” she said. 

Ms Maule said the merger was a chance to try new things. 

“[We can] really move forward differently and create opportunities for people who are seeking a variety of ways of engaging with the church,” she said. 

“I think there’s opportunities to break down some of those silos between parishes,” she said. “Can we create some bridges with other parishes in our local area and maybe work together more collaboratively?” 

Read more: For parishes on the outer edges of the diocese, finding a new priest is a challenge

Bishop of Marmingatha the Right Reverend Genieve Blackwell said the merger was an opportunity for both parishes to reinvent themselves by overcoming challenges. 

“[Merri-bek] have been limited by their buildings, and now Coburg West have been limited by their lack of numbers,” she said. 

Bishop Blackwell said while St Augustine’s and St Alban’s had different styles of worship, they had similarities in several key areas. 

She said both parishes were family-friendly with a focus on including children in worship. 

Bishop Blackwell said one of the biggest issues facing the diocese was in providing pastoral care to changing communities on a long-term basis. 

“We are stewards of property not just over a few decades, but over centuries. Demographics move, populations move and change,” she said. 

“The question is, how do we thrive together?” 

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