The Eaton/Millbridge Project is part of the Uniting Church of Australia's Wellington Regional Mission (WRM). Rev Karyl Davison and a team of volunteers support people in the area and are hoping to see a fresh expression of church take shape.
When a new housing development started to be built in the Eaton area of Western Australia, it had no community facilities. The Wellington Regional Mission saw an opportunity to do ministry there and I took on the role of creating community in Eaton and Millbridge.
A few years ago the WRM consisted of a number of small, declining semi-rural congregations plus one large congregation in Bunbury, the regional centre. As a result of hearing about fresh expressions of church, and with the urging of some forward thinking people keen on mission-shaped ministry, the WRM sold unutilised property and put the funds into a new community-based ministry.
A team of people went out into the community to see what God was up to. A process of listening occurred, including community gatherings and individual conversations, which identified that people wanted opportunities to do things as a 'family'. The WRM has invested in the Project by buying a manse in Millbridge (opposite a popular park) and I've been there since January last year.
As the Eaton and Millbridge area underwent dramatic residential growth, the WRM saw a great opportunity to help create a sense of community and bring the community together. The project had been a dream for a number of years but it was ready to move to the next level.
I have responsibility for Collie, Waterloo and Harvey congregations as well as the Eaton/Millbridge Project – being church in the community for the new housing development which will eventually cover about 500 acres of land. By its completion it will have over 1400 new homes, two government-owned primary schools, and a Catholic school. The community is made up primarily of Anglo Australians, though there are a number of families from other cultural backgrounds.
The Eaton/Millbridge Project team is currently made up of volunteers from members of the Wellington Regional Mission congregations, a significant number of whom are residents in the area or have family living there. After 12 months we have got to the stage where other residents are becoming interested in joining the team.
However, at this early stage of the Project we are still trying to make connections with people in the community. This is done mainly through events. We have now had two Easter Egg Hunts, a 'mini festival' called Christmas on Hunter, Movies by Moonlight as well as a number of smaller activities. Most are held in local parks as there are no indoor community spaces in the suburb.
We took part in the national Clean Up Australia Day by getting involved at Cadell Park, Millbridge. This year's Easter Egg Hunt was held in the same place and we had games and activities, plus the Hunt, and the all important coffee and cupcakes. We had over 150 people there, about two thirds of whom were children.
We continue to listen to the community and for the Spirit. At each event we have a comments board and invite people to make suggestions or tell us something about their community. We have also created a Community Banner featuring the handprints of all of those who come to our events.
In terms of 'advertising' what we do, we intend to connect with people electronically as well as face to face. All of our promotional material for the Project notes that we have a Facebook page and this enables me to let lots of people know about what's going on. I also send out reminders by email and we do a door-to-door leaflet drop before every event.
For those in the Project team, God's presence is much more apparent at their community events in a way that they never feel in regular worship. There is such a great sense of community and energy and fun it's a privilege to be part of.
We seek to engage with our community without an agenda of 'getting them to come to church'. We aim to be willing to receive hospitality as well as offer it; listen; and seek to identify what God is up to in our community. Our intention is that, as we gain the people's trust, we will begin offering different kinds of contemplative spaces at our events and invite them to engage in that alongside the fun activities such as games, craft, movies etc.
We hope the result will be some form of 'congregation' for unchurched or dechurched people but if we're true to our commitment to listen to the community and the Spirit, we can't set out to form a new congregation but to see what emerges.