In the early 1980s, St John’s Lutheran congregation at Whanganui, on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, had approximately 50 members and contacts, with up to 40 children in Sunday school. But as members moved away or died, numbers fell and closure looked likely.
However, the remaining members were sure that God had a plan for them. In 2008 a decision was made to rename the church ‘Harrison Street Community Church’ (HSCC) – in keeping with our vision to be involved in our local community.
We have become mission-focused and ready to answer questions from the people God will bring us. And now each person in the church is involved in the mission of the church. And in this, the biggest advantage by far is having small numbers!
We have rescued the sick and sad and we have had the homeless sleeping in our hall on cold nights.
Holding a Longest Lutheran Lunch started an outreach program in our street, which consists of mainly low socio-economic people, many living in below-standard housing. A street party was planned on the church grounds and we provided food for 50 people. There was a scramble for the supermarket when instead God provided 200 hungry people for us to feed spiritually and physically! We said ‘thank you, God’ – but a few less would be more manageable for our team of 10!
Through that one event, God showed us the mission field and what we could accomplish working together. And so we started.
Providing a monthly community meal, which guests help to prepare, has meant upgrading the hall kitchen. This has led to other possibilities, such as budget cooking lessons, a frozen food bank and, in time, preserving food from the church garden.
Our community meal nights have evolved into a worship service where the gospel is preached, people are prayed for and ministry is done.
And we have had an increase in worship numbers, baptisms and confirmations from these informal gatherings.
The meals now draw up to 60 people who may come to hear the gospel message, for fellowship together, for a really good three-course meal, to get help from people there, to be listened to.
And we are grateful to have received a grant from LCNZ to help with our outreach. HSCC has also recently worked with four sociologists who took a survey of our community, including interviewing guests at the community meal. This is helping us decide what the next step is in the vision of our church.
Some ideas we have tried haven’t worked but God is leading us forward with exciting plans percolating.
The pews aren’t full but the community knows who we are. We are small in numbers but we have a big heart and passion to bring the gospel to our area around Harrison Street.
Phil Husband serves Whanganui as Specific Ministry Pastor.