Hanging on and hanging together. That has been the status of St Matthew’s Footscray over the past two years, as we have dealt with a pastoral vacancy and Melbourne’s series of COVID lockdowns. In the absence of a pastor, the leaders of our little (even littler since the lockdowns) congregation have not only handled the same lockdown fatigue and pressures as the rest of us, but stepped in to keep our church functioning and connected. We have been meeting through Google Meet each week. Although not all of our parishioners have joined us online, our numbers have been boosted at times by relatives from around the country, whose own congregations have not been able to meet.
“Being able to connect every Sunday has kept the community together,” said Vanessa Williams, the St Matthew’s council member who has coordinated, put together and run the online services, with the help of LCA resources.
“It’s been wonderful to see everyone on screen every week,” agreed Ruth Borchert, our church deacon. “So many congregations have absolutely nothing. It’s a long time without a pastor and difficult times. I think we can just be thankful that not too many things have happened in our congregation over the past two years.”
As well as allowing connection with distant family members, the online services have also enabled connection with members of our own church family, Ken and Esther Cross, who have continued to worship with us from their new home and workplace in Utopia, two or three hours’ drive from Alice Springs.
While this period has had its challenges (including some break-ins to the vacant church premises), it has also had its unexpected joys. One of these has been our new relationship with the VECA Hope Church, a Vietnamese congregation, who recently started sharing our premises. They happen to have quite a bit of building expertise in their congregation and have already helped revamp our kitchen and renovate our church hall. The timing of the new partnership meant that they have only had one service, which they combined with a celebratory lunch to which we were all invited, but it was a blessing that the timing of that event fell between lockdowns.
“They worked hard to be ready in time for that one service and they did,” said Simon Lienert, St Matthew’s chairman.
“It wasn’t because of COVID that they wanted to be ready for that date, but it turned out it was just about the only weekend in between lockdowns that we could physically worship at the church.”
It is perhaps a sign that, even more than the resilience that has helped us hang on to our worship tradition and each other in a new way, God is hanging on to us. While we are holding on, waiting for a return to physical services and the invigoration of a new pastor, we can be sure that God has other new blessings for us and our future.
by Sam and Bec Lienert