A few years back the Deacons at Westgate were seeking to discern what our Mission might look like in the next 10 years. A key word that emerged for the future was ‘hospitality’, but this wasn’t clearly fleshed out and for a while the church drifted without a clear focus. We were an ageing activist community who were increasingly seeing their primary focus for ministry outside of the church.
Composting For Community
In 2018, we put together a brief survey that asked our local cafes and food outlets in Yarraville village about how much of their food waste was thrown out instead of being recycled and composted.
With a vast majority responding that they didn’t have the means, we immediately jumped at the opportunity to build a relationship with these shop owners by providing them with this service.
The response has been so be amazing especially given that most of the shop owners are deeply eco-conscious who have an equally deep suspicion of the church.
We’ve shifted their view of church by simply responding to something that they had perceived as a need. Real friendships have grown and we have sought to be a listening ear particularly as so many faced possible closure during Covid.
“You’ve come! We’ve been so hoping that you’d be able to take us on – thank you so much!” is the usual response of shop owners when the team comes in for collection.
With all of the collected compost materials, we turned the patchy lawn in front of the Manse next door into a community garden that has provided us with a fantastic interface with our neighbours, giving us opportunities to talk about the other things we do and to invite people to join us and learn about what we do as a church.
Cooking For Community
Our call to hospitality was always in the background. After applying and being approved for a grant, we were finally able to build a commercial kitchen to serve the community during 2019 and were ready to open by March 2020—just when COVID hit!
During this period, we offered our kitchen to a start-up veggie-burger business called Cultiv.Ate – Plant-based Yum and we also developed a significant distribution of frozen food meals for those in isolation including what has become an on-going relationship with 2 local health centres.
One of the best results of our cooking together has been the deepening relationships with our Karen congregation. We chop, learn English and laugh so much, and the venture would not be possible without this co-operation.
In previous years the church has struggled to secure a place at the Yarraville Festival. In 2021, the organisers (some of the café owners) actually came to us and asked to showcase our work which was a great endorsement. We sold jams and pickles made from rescued food; worm juice and compost, and plants. Once again it was clear that people were amazed that it was a church behind all of this, and several people approached us and asked how they could join us.
Growing For Community
The final phase of our 3-pronged contribution to waste-reduction was the development of a Plant Nursery at the back of the Manse. We fenced off part of the back yard and again secured grants for a greenhouse and covered planting area. We use our own compost and recycled pots collected off skips and social media sites. We collect seeds and cuttings and are slowly gathering an eclectic group of people who enjoy the sense of community and for whom getting their hands in the dirt is a good for their mental health.
We have sold plants and seedlings back to the greengrocers from whom we collect the waste that makes our compost. It’s a lovely way of closing the loop that has emerged organically as we have sought to listen to God’s spirit and to the voices of our community.
The last 3 years have been a wonderful journey in mission. We have made many new friends along the way and several of our volunteers have started coming to church and exploring faith.