A chaplaincy vacancy at a nearby public school has been a God-given opportunity for one New Zealand congregation to connect to its local community.
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For St Matthew Lutheran Church in Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island, having a public primary school just up the road has been a wonderful outreach opportunity.
Whitiora School serves approximately 180 students, with about half coming from migrant families. As many of the migrant students live in small flats and do not have much play space, the school opens its grounds to the community. The school also has been developing gardens for children to grow produce.
Principal Paul Cooper has served Whitiora School for many years with a heartfelt empathy for this community, enhanced by overseas mission experience.
Just over five years ago the school decided to engage a voluntary chaplain who could relate to students’ spiritual needs in a multi-faith environment. Lifewalk Chaplaincy Service provided a lay pastor who served for four-and-a-half years.
Pastor John Davison and St Matthew Lutheran Church Ministry Council recognised the need for a replacement chaplain from last year as a way for the church to connect with the community.
The church sponsored Pastor John’s time at the school each Friday, but soon other opportunities arose to minister in practical ways. Ministry council members arranged to serve soup to between 60 and 100 students on Fridays for six weeks in winter 2016. The congregation plans to repeat this program in 2017.
Students sent letters expressing their appreciation. One said: ‘Thank you for making the mouth-watering vegie noodle soup for us. You are very kind and I know you gave up a lot of your time … You and your friends said a lot of positive words.’
Members of St Matthew also provided a Longest Lutheran Lunch for school staff in October 2016, while the ministry council organised an Advent picnic for school families.
The children of Whitiora are open to asking questions about Christianity and there is a growing relationship of trust with parents. This makes it easier for Pastor John to initiate conversations with them.
St Mathew in Hamilton has an average weekly worshipping attendance of around
30 people. Despite its limited resources however, and with the Holy Spirit as its guide, the congregation believes it is making a difference through its relationship with the school.
As Jesus says in Mathew 25:40: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’.
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