19 July 2024

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A simple vision, as Anglicans revive Wallan presence

Reverend Prashant Bhonsle. Picture: supplied

The Reverend Prashant Bhonsle

29 June 2024

The Reverend Prashant Bhonsle is leading a church plant to develop an Anglican presence in Wallan. He hopes to begin a worship congregation that will become a centrifugal force in the community. The plant is reaching out to potential members through information sessions in July.  

Church planting hadn’t been part of my story to this point. But I am finding it a real adventure becoming part of one in the making and remaking stage. Wallan is giving me that thrill! 

Our church is recommencing the Anglican Ministry in Wallan – stopped during COVID in 2021 – in a new location that belongs to the diocese.  

The previous congregation in Wallan was small. But this means the Anglican presence is not totally new. Even before we came to Australia we were told of the growth in the northern corridor, and the need of the ministry here. From the time I took the decision to come here, I prepared myself to unlearn and relearn in a new context.  

As the son of a priest in the Church of North India I grew up around the church. Faith has been part of our family story, and it’s been a beautiful gift passed down from generation to generation.  

Read more: Church planting is pivotal to our future. Here’s how it can flourish

My inner call came by observing my father reading, writing and ministering to others. I became convinced God existed, through logic, reason and philosophy. And over time a whole new avenue of learning, realising and understanding was slowly opening for me. 

Much of my theology was shaped outside of my seminary when I was confronted with the real situations of the people in the caste-ridden Indian society, afflicted in poverty, mainly due to their identity as a Dalit, tribal and or due to their gender identities. All throughout the Bible we find God’s preferential option for the poor. Jesus began His ministry with Nazareth manifesto, to preach the good news to the poor, the captives, the oppressed. 

As a program team leader with the Justice and Development wing of the Church of North India, I was able to work with local congregations to spark meaningful interventions across society. We developed participatory models, where local congregations, women’s groups and youth groups, integrated issues of the community in their liturgy and practice. This generated leadership, spearheading change. 

An insider’s view from a lay parishioner of the Melbourne diocese visiting Kolkata changed my perspective. I realised role I could play ministering in an evolving, multicultural society such as Melbourne. I realised I could offer the gospel in this context. My wife the Reverend Dr Satvasheela Pandhare – now leading the Hume parish – was also convinced she had a role to play as an ordained priest and chaplain. 

As I considered ministry in Wallan, I realised the challenge of secularism, the “no need of God” in our life attitude of people. And these people have diverse needs and real struggles in life.  

Reverend Prashant Bhonsle. Picture: supplied

Communities and young families need care. A strong community, bound in genuine love and concern for each other will always thrive. I therefore call upon people to come together, to pray, to sing, to worship, to talk with each other, empathise, resonate, have fellowships in a safe and sound environment. Here we together can sustain in mutual love, affection, understanding of each other and thereby share joy and peace. Worship goes hand in hand with the service work we do. I am hopeful that, having understood the community’s felt needs, with vision and foresight, together we can collaborate more with Anglican agencies, ecumenical networks and mission partners, city council and other likeminded agencies. So, our work has a simple vision: to be inviting, welcoming and replenishing.  I am sure God who offers life abundant continually to all without discrimination will help us be an inclusive and inviting community.  

I take ministry as a rare privilege. It fills me, it gives me joy and I love it. I also humbly acknowledge the Anglican presence of our former congregation in Wallan, who have run the race, and have kept the faith. I hope those who were part of that story will participate with their experience and wisdom in this new chapter for an Anglican presence in Wallan.   

Read more: Thinking about planting a church? Don’t underestimate the recruitment phase

Any growth story comes with challenges. It is one thing to minister in an organised set up of church ministries, altogether another to co-create a community that drives its mandate of engagement and service in the world, while being firmly rooted in faith and spirituality.  

However, it is important especially in a new, changing and challenging context we are in. We are a constantly changing society. We have people of other faiths, diverse ideologies and orientations coming and joining us every day. The projected demographic change for Wallan itself is a case in point, it is growing increasingly diverse. They all bring their own spirituality, belief systems and faith practices to contribute to the fabric of society in Wallan. We need to engage daily and build bridges across the society and know that truly we are a “Land of the Spirit”. God is already at work here and we simply need only to participate in His mission here in Wallan. To me, therefore, the call is simply to be inviting, to be welcoming.   

I cannot make a difference alone, it must be a joint endeavour. I can only facilitate and more at that, I see my role as a community enabler, following on the footprints of Jesus. I hope that we can form a an inclusive, participatory, safe space for all in Wallan. As God leads, I hope to be part of His work in this area to bring positive social change in the community so all will be able to flourish. I thank the Hume Anglican Parish for their role in Wallan’s church growth story.  

If you live in and around Wallan, you can join an information session on 16 July at 7pm and the Wallan Neighbourhood House to talk about the possibility of relaunching an Anglican presence.  

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