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God’s hand guiding Grafton


Majors Cathryn and Mark Williamson with Reverend Ron Watson from the Grafton Uniting Church where the Salvos co-located for more than a year after their building flooded.

By LAUREN MARTIN

The start of 2022 was an exciting time across Australia. Many COVID-19 restrictions were easing, and Salvation Army corps and centres were looking forward to the ‘new normal’ that had been dreamed of and prayed about for so long.


At Grafton, on the NSW mid-north coast, the new corps officers, Majors Cathryn and Mark Williamson, had started their appointment during the COVID-19 lockdown period, so all of the corps’ ministries were not operational, and Sunday Service was online.


“We had a Home League group of ladies that continued to meet when possible,” said Cathryn. “They did have a Mini Muso’s group that had probably 60 or 70 attendees, and that was closed due to COVID, and they ran a Messy Church monthly.”


With great anticipation and excitement, corps members gathered together on 27 February for their first Sunday meeting without restrictions. Less than 24 hours later, all plans for re-opening ministry and services were dashed.


“At 4am on the 28 February, Mark got a phone call to say there was water in the hall,” said Cathryn. Grafton Corps had flooded beyond repair, with water levels even higher than a previous devastating flood in 1988.


A divine partnership


With flooding impacting several areas around Grafton, Cathryn and Mark were deployed to operate evacuation centres for the Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES). It was a busy time, but meeting together for worship on Sunday was a priority, so the first week after the flood, the corps organised to meet at a church in south Grafton that had been generously offered to them.


What happened next was a divine partnership.


A flood in 2022 forced Grafton Salvation Army out of its building and into a ‘new space’ physically and spiritually.

Many local churches had offered the Salvos the use of their hall, but one stood out as the ‘right’ one. The Uniting Church was just around the corner from The Salvation Army’s flooded corps, which suited many in the congregation who walked to Sunday meetings. “The Uniting Church has a 9am service, and we usually had a 10am service,” said Cathryn. “We decided to join them for the morning tea and hold our service in their church hall at 11am.”


“Many from each congregation have said how nice it’s been to get to know people in other congregations,” said Cathryn. Mark joined the Uniting Church worship team as their piano player, and he has been able to make announcements during their service, which has allowed members of the Uniting congregation to “join us on mission,” said Cathryn.


Through relationships, the number of people invested in The Salvation Army in Grafton has grown, with more volunteers for Bunnings barbeques, gift wrapping at Christmas time and Red Shield Appeal collections.



Volunteering opportunities


Peter Dobinson is a Uniting Church parishioner who has relished a stronger connection with The Salvation Army this past year. A passionate Red Shield Appeal supporter, Peter has door-knocked and collected for The Salvation Army for the past 20 years.


Peter Dobinson from the Grafton Uniting Church assists the local Salvation Army in its Red Shield Appeal ministry.

“I love the Sallies and the work of the Sallies,” he said. “They have a [Red Shield Appeal] form on our noticeboard at the church asking who wants to volunteer, and I’m first cab off the rank!”


For Peter, volunteering at collection points allows him to “work for the Lord” and chat with people in the community. He said he would miss the Salvos congregation when the rebuild of the Grafton Corps is complete, but he is happy that the past year of connection has created strong connections. “There’s been a lot of brotherly bonds formed.”


Rebuild for greater missional connection


Cathryn and Mark firmly believe that the extra year of ‘isolation’ outside of their corps building due to the flooding has been God’s blessing for the corps. Despite the inconvenience and heartache of being unable to restart some previous ministries, the time to build relational connections and pray about the future has been worthwhile.


“The danger was that we go back to the ‘old’, or the ‘familiar’ is probably a better word for it,” said Cathryn about the post-COVID return. With the Grafton Corps being refitted, the flood has given the corps a chance to pray and plan for the ‘new’.


“I see a hive of activity with lots of people,” said Cathryn of her vision of the new space.


A new kitchenette going into one of the corps’ halls will make it more usable and able to be hired out to community groups, and a complete rebuild of the toilet and shower block has been long overdue.


Corps members can’t wait to start opening up their new building as a drop-in centre one or two days a week and start connecting with people through Salvos Connect again. (During COVID and after the flood, community members granted gift cards through The Salvation Army’s PAL – Phone Assistance Line – have been getting the cards posted to their address rather than meeting with local Salvos to collect the cards and interact.)


Christian connections


Salvationist Judy Salter has been a Soldier at Grafton Corps for 36 years and was the manager of the Family Store for 20 of those years. She says the past year being co-located with the Uniting Church has been a beautiful experience of getting to know other local Christians.


“We have met a whole church of new people. Some of the people we already knew, a few I knew by sight but not by name. Now, because we have been coming here 12 months and we have gotten to know them more on a personal level, it’s been wonderful.”


Salvationist Max Salter (left) with Uniting Church attendee Christine McAulay (middle) and Salvationist Judy Salter (right).

But, she says, she and other corps members are yearning to return to their own space and see community connections start again. The Salvation Army’s practical faith attracted Judy and her husband many years ago, and despite a recent health scare, Judy is itching to get back to mission and outreach.


“I want to see us open more to the community and getting the community more involved in what we could be running at the church,” she says. “After-school programs, basic cooking lessons ... I would love to see it more open to the community, and we are looking at how we can have our doors open to people who are struggling.”


Whilst Cathryn and Mark and the corps haven’t settled on exactly what the new rhythm of corps mission will look like, there are certainly lots of ideas and enthusiasm. One of those ideas gaining traction is a gentle exercise class for older people, which they plan to call ‘Easy Moves’. This may coincide with a cooking class called ‘Easy Eats’.


“There are a lot of lonely people in our community,” says Judy. “I’m sure there are plenty of things we can do to make ourselves available ... even if it’s just being open for a cup of tea and a biscuit for people who just want to talk.”


Watch this space ... Grafton Corps is planning a reopening celebration within months. Please keep Cathryn and Mark, their corps and the local community in your prayers as they seek God’s heart for future directions.

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