Heathmont Baptist is a small Baptist church in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, with a Sunday morning congregation of around 120 regulars and an evening congregation of about 30. A local Burmese church uses the building on Sunday afternoons for their service as well.
Since the lockdown they have been live streaming one service, which is watched by approximately 100 viewers. Some of these are members of the Burmese church’s congregation, along with other ‘visitors’ from the wider community, although generally not the older church congregants. The church has been using Zoom and YouTube to stay connected and has moved as many of their activities online as possible, including ‘life’ groups, play groups and kids and youth programs. They also offer weekly Podcasts from their website and are running resilience and leadership training courses.
For Heathmont Baptist, the move to online was “significant” and “required a lot of extra work to get going”, says Mark, their Associate Pastor. The aim has been to continue a “sense of the church gathered” even though they are all scattered. Although they have many volunteers offering to assist in various ways, they are conscious that they need to “minimise contact in an effort to keep people safe”. The additional workload has fallen to their five staff.
One of their usual outreach programs is their community garden, where they hold gardening days once a month and a crop swap. Since the lockdown, there is a “sense” that people are using the garden as an additional food source, although it is not something they “overly police.” The garden also provides a natural space for people from the community to walk through when they are out exercising.
Now, as the colder months draw nearer, the church would usually be running their ‘Winter Shelter’, an initiative with seven other churches in Maroondah where homeless men are given a warm meal and can sleep inside the church building. This year they cannot offer this safe place to sleep, but they are providing warm meals a few nights a week (as a takeaway service) to around 20 people and clothes for those in need. The church has also developed a new partnership with local businesses who are keen to help out as a way of getting food and other forms of assistance to those in the community who need it.
For Mark, the lockdown has helped them “understand the importance of community more deeply” and the church is looking forward to seeing what longer term ramifications this will have on their congregation and in the broader community. They have been making the most of a bad situation but “God is still building his church”. In the words of Adrienne, a member of the 10am congregation, they “are looking forward to meeting together again real soon”.