Forest Lake developing a home for people craving community
Forest Lake developing a home for people craving community
By Simone Worthing
“People are craving community in an increasingly disconnected world, wanting to know and be known, and we are all about creating spaces where that can happen,” says Captain Vanessa Hunt, who with husband Lieutenant Anthony Hunt, are the officers at Forest Lake Corps, in Brisbane.
“When we arrived here in January last year, anything was possible. We asked God to show us how he was already at work here and how we could join him. He is showing us, and it’s amazing how different things have fallen into place. We are trusting that will continue as we figure out what The Salvation Army in Forest Lake looks like.”
Forest Lake is the largest suburb in Brisbane, with a population of 30,000 and an emphasis on young families. The two largest primary schools in Queensland are in Forest Lake.
After their arrival, the Hunts quickly started researching the area’s demographics and looking around for opportunities to engage in their local community.
“I quickly noticed that there was only one child-friendly café in our area with a playground – McDonald’s – and I was tired of going there with my kids,” Vanessa explains. “So many families were there though and I thought – ‘We can do this; we can engage with our community through a café!” [The Hunts have two young children and are also kinship carers to two teenagers.]
Part of the Forest Lake Corps is a spacious café area with a barista-style coffee machine, tables and chairs, playground and table tennis. The Hunts and their team began looking at ways to develop the area as a community café.
“We are re-purposing the café space to include a thrift shop; we are installing a new playground outside and are making the whole area much more family and community friendly,” says Vanessa. “We want this to be a space where families can have positive interactions with each other, get to know each other, and build community.
“The op shop will also be a way to engage volunteers and a training opportunity for people as well.”
Anthony explained that the local business community is also keen to be involved and supportive, and possibilities for partnerships are being explored. The Salvation Army also has the support of local and state government.
“Ultimately, we would like to have at least five days of different ‘congregations’ meeting different needs, rather than trying to do everything on a Sunday,” says Anthony.
Relationships are also being developed in other, unexpected ways.
When Vanessa saw a post on the local community’s Facebook page, from a mum who was looking for a craft group in the area, she immediately thought that might be a need that the Salvos could fill.
“Starting a craft group was the last thing on my mind but I thought it would work,” she shares. “I knew there would be others like me who like to dabble in creativity but simply don’t have the time.
“So with minimal preparation time, we simply made our space available, advertised it on social media and provided coffee and cake. The first week, 10 people came, some from our Sunday congregation, some mums from the childcare centre next door and some who had never walked through our doors before.
“People bring their own craft projects to the group and are made to feel welcome. They are taking an interest in each other, forming friendships, and notice when different ones are missing.
“Because we don’t have to prepare or ‘run’ anything, all our efforts can go into conversations and relationships.
“It time we hope to build up the relationships we are intentionally forming and engage in the ‘spiritual space’ – although we don’t know what that looks like yet. So far, of the 15 who attend, only five are connected with the corps in some way.”
The Hunts and their team are gradually building different spaces to facilitate community, and plans are being made for additional groups in the coming year.
A local community group has also rented the corps’ large shed for their Men’s Shed group and are about to have their official opening.
“This community partnership is a good opportunity to connect with The Salvation Army and develop relationships with retirees and others who want someone to talk to,” says Anthony.
“It’s good to see the community using the space and resources. If someone else has the capacity and drive to get something going, let them do it and let’s see what partnerships come from that.”
A Wednesday afternoon drop-in centre for young people is a good example of this. Youth workers run the group, with Anthony and Vanessa providing support as needed.
The corps’ coffee van will soon be out and about in the community, going to where people are already meeting and providing a service and positive presence.
“At first I wanted to drive the van into the lake and claim insurance,” laughs Vanessa. “It has taken a while to get it up and running but will be a great way to create visibility in the community and a revenue source.”
When the number of people attending Sunday meetings dwindled to just a handful, the Hunts knew that it was not sustainable and something needed to change.
“We were never going to be that big congregation on a Sunday,” says Vanessa. “We wanted to see a body functioning together for the best possible outcome, not just do what we’ve always done.”
After consulting with the congregation, the Hunts now hold Sunday meetings in the café space. Anthony or Vanessa lead with guided interactive Bible studies, and some elements of scripture and song.
“We have a time of encouragement where people share how they see God at work in each other, build each other up and share their burdens,” says Anthony. “We are seeing people grow in holiness and engaging with each other, which doesn’t happen if you’re just singing songs and listening to a sermon. Growth is an active, not passive, experience.”
As part of the Forest Lake Corps, Fran Probets is the Salvation Army family caseworker, who works with parents at local primary school in the nearby Ellen Grove, where many disadvantaged and vulnerable families live.
“I am there for parents or whoever, if they want to come and talk,” says Fran. “The main purpose is to build relationships and consistency, to be there, and build trust so that when people do have an issue they need help with, they know who we are and can come to us.”
“It’s about seeing our families, and therefore our community, flourish.”
The focus for this ministry is looking at how to provide, not just immediate material support, but helping families through long-term and challenging issues.
“We want to help families with the ‘deeper things’ that can help them flourish, to come alongside them and help them come to a place where they can have the full life that Jesus has promised us all,” says Vanessa.
The Hunts see this as a new season for Forest Lake – for the people in the corps, those returning, and new people from the community.
“We’re learning that small and simple is actually okay,” says Anthony. “Small and simple connects with people and they don’t get lost in big and multiple programs. People here are happier being in small groups rather than in a room with hundreds of strangers.
“We’re also working to our strengths – me with the quiet, one-on-on conversations with people and the planning, and Vanessa the ‘relationships queen’!
“Together with God, we are moving forward in this season for Forest Lake.”