Church every other day on the Mornington Peninsula
Church every other day on the Mornington Peninsula
Fresh out of officer training college, Lieutenant Laronie (pronounced lah-RON) Thompson is juggling a dozen different ministry balls, but none of them is a Sunday meeting.
Arriving on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne, in January this year, her agenda was to have no agenda. “I actually came here with an open heart and an open mind. My first two weeks when we’re meant to be unpacking I actually just spent walking the streets and talking to people and just asking if they could change it in any way to make it better, what would it be,” she remembers.
On several of those walks she found herself lost, walking around in circles in one particular neighbourhood, and she clearly felt God prompting her to be involved in that place. “And then I was invited to a meeting which was the Resident’s Action Group for that particular [public housing] area.” At one of the first meetings, the group discussed whether to pray in each meeting. Lieut Thompson said, ‘Well, I can help you with that.” But someone else in the group said they weren’t religious. “And I said, ‘That’s OK, I’m not religious either ... but we can write out a prayer that is spiritual enough to accept our spirituality.’ They all said ‘yes’.”
From there the group invited Lieut Thompson to see what she could do in a particular park in the neighbourhood which they perceived was a ‘hive’ of antisocial activity. On the spot, she suggested a barbeque. “God had just prompted me to say it, so I said it.”
That’s how God has started all of his Salvation Army work in the Westernport area, with Lieut Thompson tapping into the local community, forming relationships, praying, praying, praying; and then following God’s prompting about what to do next.
Within the past eight months the Sunday park barbeque has flourished. Lieut Thompson turns up every fortnight and a team of willing young people are already there, waiting to help. “I had a young boy probably about three months ago, he turned around and said to me, ‘If I had a car I would go to church’, and I said, ‘That’s OK, when you’re here doing the barbeque you are the church’, and he couldn’t stop beaming and everyone he saw during the barbeque he said ‘I am the church!’
“This Sunday just passed ... all the boys came early to help cook so that they could ‘be’ the church. They ‘get it’ and they’ve been sharing it at their primary school, their principal told me that they talk about it now, they talk about it with their friends and that to me is ‘church’.”
Another ministry that has blossomed is a Mums-and-Bubs DIY craft group that is run at the local Bunnings Warehouse. It, again, formed out of a relationship Lieut Thompson struck up with a Bunnings employee who shared her passion to provide opportunities for mothers on low incomes to do activities with their children. That really connected with Lieut Thompson, because on a number of her prayer walks when she first arrived, she met women who said, “there’s nothing for my kids because we can’t afford it”.
So Bunnings provides the venue, the DIY craft supplies and a worker to run the group. Lieut Thompson invites the mothers and toddlers and spends time connecting with them. Her connections with women from across the peninsula has led Lieut Thompson to ask herself, and the women, “how can we all come together to connect in a meaningful way?” The answer has been to start a Home League, which seems old-fashioned but when explained to a bunch of non-Salvationists, has caused a stir of excitement. Many have put up their hands to help. One woman wants to teach others how to make Chinese dumplings. Another wants to do sewing and others, craft. And Lieut Thompson says all are looking forward to the spiritual aspect of the group, as well as learning new things and making new friends.
“I’ve explained to them that I will be doing devotions, there will be times when I will be talking about God and it is about God that’s why we come together and they’re still all OK with it ... I’ve got a lady who says she’s never had faith in her life wanting to know about God.”
God continues to provide opportunities at a pace that seems dizzying, yet he is putting in place the right people for the right ministries. The Corps Plant this year stopped receiving missional support funds from the division and moves have been made to make it self-sustaining. The Op Shop has been relocated, and has a strong team of volunteers and it’s hoped will soon start to make money to be funnelled into ministry.
Lieut Thompson chooses to meet people in community (such as her weekly church at a local cafe) rather than at the hall, so money is being saved on lighting and heating. There is a new community garden (pictured right) on site, with plants being sold at the Op Shop. The future will involve opportunities for local unemployed people to develop their skills and supplement their Centrelink income.
While there is no “Sunday Meeting” as such, The Salvation Army Mission Centre in the Westernport is thriving.