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Reimagining The Salvation Army’s mission in Panania

The Salvation Army’s Panania Mission Leader Natalie Sheehan (left) with Panania Salvos Store assistant, Sabrina.

A commercial café being purpose-built on the former Panania Corps building site in Sydney is bringing the missional heart back to the area in a reimagined way.

Panania Corps ceased Sunday meetings several years ago when a new local mission plan for the area was developed that looked at different ways of being The Salvation Army and engaging with the community. The thriving Family Store became a Salvos Store and relocated to the corps site, which still housed other fruitful ministries like the weekly ‘Music and Play’.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Panania became part of Shire Salvos and a Mission Leader, Salvationist Natalie Sheehan, was appointed to oversee the site and mission in the local area. She says whilst the pandemic slowed things down, she has spent the past few years developing relationships with the Salvos Store staff and management and working on the whole-of-site mission delivery plan for the future.

Café to merge store and mission

A key component of the plan is the building of a commercial café, which will be located at the front of the building and provide a second access to the store.

“From the street, you will be able to see into the store from across the café deck and in through the café,” Natalie says. “When people access the store through the main entrance, they will pass the entrance to the café and a few small tables in the hallway. So, we will be co-located with the store but not directly in the store.”

The café, ‘Salvos: The Village’, is expected to be constructed and operational later this year. “We're dreaming of a place inspired by verses like Romans 15:5-7, Philippians 2:1-11 and Ephesians 4:1-7, just to name a few,” says Natalie.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sandra Godkin has been appointed as Café Manager and will work alongside Natalie. The pair want to ensure that Salvos: The Village is both professional and missional. “First things first, we want to have great coffee,” says Natalie. “We will be barista trained, and we’re looking at hiring a casual barista as well until we can establish a core group of volunteers.

“We want to establish a missional presence here so that people know they can come to our site and feel they are known and belong and valued and loved.”
– Natalie

Presence in the community

The Village was created from a heart to be a presence for all in our community. We dreamed of a place that operates like a town hall. Where all people from the community could come, be heard, be seen and feel welcome. The Village is all about loving people and helping people to realise their full potential.”

Apart from coffee and conversation, Natalie’s role as Mission Leader in Panania is integrating Salvation Army services and local mission delivery. An office next door to the entrance of the café will have a glass door panel and separate access to the kids play area on the café deck. That way, people needing a confidential chat or assistance can seamlessly move from the café space into a service delivery space. “And for parents who need to bring their children along, their kids can be playing in the safe play area on the deck while the parent is speaking with a Salvation Army service provider.”

As a community worker, Natalie can provide some financial and food assistance to people in need and offer to journey with community members through the Positive Lifestyle Program (PLP). A Moneycare Financial Counsellor will begin services to the Panania community from the site later this year. Natalie says there are plans to integrate other services into the space.

“I would love to imagine that we have maybe a Bible study on the deck of the café or small groups; I can be doing PLP in my office, people can come to get services and then connect into community through different groups that we want to have starting organically.”

With shops and cafes two of the most frequented services in local communities, Natalie says it makes sense for The Salvation Army to be in those spaces as well, delivering The Salvation Army’s four mission pillars of: Caring for People, Building Healthy Communities, Working for Justice, and Creating Faith Pathways.

Panania part of bigger vision

Natalie’s role as a Mission Leader connected to a local community where The Salvation Army has a presence is part of a broader Shire Salvos vision to create a Jesus culture in every Salvation Army space in the local area and to employ a mission leader at every Salvation Army location, including stores.

Currently, Mission Leaders are employed at Panania, Helensburgh, Menai community and Salvos Store, Menai Corps, Miranda food relief and assistance centre, Engadine community and Salvos Store, and a Mission Leader is currently being sought for Sutherland community and Salvos Store.

“We want to make sure there is no wrong door for anyone to come to The Salvation Army and be able to find faith, community and love,” says Shire Salvos Mission Leader Mark Soper.

And that’s exactly the vision God gave Natalie for Panania. “We want to reach people, help people, love people and encourage people to live their best life through the hope found in Jesus!


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