Working together for God’s glory in Sydney City
By LAUREN MARTIN
When a Salvation Army officer is appointed as chaplain to a social service, their job description is to care for and support the staff and clients of that particular service. But when you have a group of Salvation Army services in close proximity, like inner-city services, is there a more holistic way of ministering?
That’s the question Sydney City Salvos asked when it brought together the corps and mission expressions of The Salvation Army in inner-Sydney several years ago.
“We had a heart to be on mission together,” says Mitch Evans, Sydney City Salvos Mission Team Leader. In fact, Mitch was so serious about working together that he and the team at The Salvation Army’s Streetlevel Mission stopped running their Friday night faith expression and instead encouraged participants to meet at Sydney Congress Hall for its Wednesday night Hope Dinner instead.
“The exciting thing about the inner city is that we are seeing the walls coming down, and people are working together and wanting to support each other,” says Sydney-wide Area Officer Major Vannessa Garven.
The role of chaplaincy across the area was also turned on its head, with chaplains employed to minister across all inner-city services, not just assigned to one service.
“They work across all the centres, and the impact that’s having is huge,” says Vannessa. “They are committed they coming to Hope Dinner each Wednesday, and they are connecting people to that.”
Meet the inner-city Chaplaincy Team
Major Bill Geracia is The Salvation Army’s chaplain to inner-city Sydney. So, on Mondays and Thursdays he is at Oasis Youth Services, on Tuesdays he’s at Foster House men’s homelessness service and on Thursday mornings he joins a worker there who does an early-morning outreach for rough sleepers.
On Wednesdays, he works the barbeque at the Waterloo Corps community lunch, and that night he joins the other chaplains at Sydney Congress Hall’s Hope Dinner. On Fridays, he hangs out at William Booth House Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) service and runs a Bible study there.
During the week, he touches base and crosses paths with his chaplaincy co-workers, Captain Bronwyn Moon and Major Irene Pleffer.
“Everyone connects to people differently,” says Bill. “So, the ability to have different people and personalities in each of the centres is invaluable.”
When you get the three in a room together, the organic way that they work together is tangible:
“Oh! I ran into this fellow the other day,” says Irene excitedly. “Yes, he’s meeting with me every Tuesday,” says Bill. “You should see the change in him, he doesn’t want to do drugs anymore.” “That’s so great,” says Bronwyn. “He’s into rap music and art, so because I was at Oasis and they have the Street Media program there, I told them about him, and they said he can use their recording studio, so I introduced him, and he’s just done really well …”
And that’s just one conversation about one community member. Get in a room with these three chaplains and you will hear them talk about multiple people, multiple interactions. The way they connect the threads between their interactions with community members builds a story around the kind of transformative wrap-around support a large organisation like The Salvation Army can provide to a person when its people work together.
Hundreds of people use the support services of The Salvation Army in inner Sydney. In many cases, one person will use several different services. When they do, they’re coming into contact at some point with the inner-city chaplains, who work at each of the centres, and all have the same heart: to see people thrive.
It often all comes together at the Wednesday night Hope Dinner at Sydney Congress Hall. People that Bill, Bronwen and Irene have met at all the Salvation Army centres and faith expressions they work across are invited to a community meal. There is a time of devotion, lots of laughs, and opportunities to go deeper.
“At Hope Dinner, I get around, say, four or five guys and we talk footy, and then Irene is talking to some of the single ladies,” explains Bill. “I think it’s a better way [to have this shared chaplaincy mission]. It’s more advantageous for us because we can be open to every opportunity in every service. Instead of just having one person at one service.”
Bronwyn agrees. She says working across the centres and faith expressions allows the chaplains to continue journeying with people after they leave one particular Salvation Army service. “We can continue faith pathways when they leave. These are such transient places that they are in. We can connect them to other Salvation Army places. We cover more ground this way than putting single chaplains in these places that might not know what’s happening anywhere else.
“I think there’s something to be said for this model. Of course, we are lucky because everything is within walking distance ... although, I wouldn’t mind if they gave me a little scooter with a Salvo shield on it,” she laughs!