This is my Uniting Church
Bangalow-Byron Bay Uniting Church
July 19, 2023
Today we hear from Rev Phil Dokmanovic, Minister at the spirit-led, big-hearted community of Bangalow-Byron Bay Uniting Church on the far north coast of NSW.
"God has been preparing our hearts for change and for stepping into the future in new and exciting ways"
Can you tell us a little bit about your church community?
We are Bangalow Byron Bay Uniting Church and we live, worship and minister on the lands and waterways of the Arakwal people of the Bundjalung nation, in a beautiful part of God’s creation on the far north coast of NSW. We are a joint congregation, with locations at the coastal town of Byron Bay (one of Australia’s popular tourist destinations) and the hinterland village of Bangalow, about 15 minutes west of the coast.
As a regional, country and coastal church, we face similar experiences to many UCA congregations around the country, with the reality of an ageing congregation whose numbers have decreased over time. We also find ourselves some 750 km away from our Synod’s city base and the resources that are readily available to those in that proximity.
Each Sunday we have two worship gatherings, one in the morning at Byron Bay and one in the evening at Bangalow. We are creating an inclusive, inter-generational community that loves and welcomes everybody. As a congregation we are passionate about justice and as a result have key ministries with Fairtrade and to the rough sleepers and those on the margins in our community, along with a range of global ministries that we support.
What are some of the things happening there that are really exciting for people?
The recently established Regional Partnership connecting our Presbytery to Synod has been an exciting new opportunity for networking, collaboration and an open access to the resources of our Synod and this has seen positive outcomes for our congregation.
We are currently engaging in strategic mission planning with the assistance of our Synod’s Mission Enablement Team and the whole congregation is excited about the possibilities and discussions and are keen to follow the Spirit’s leading so that worship, witness and service can continue in our region long into the future.
In the past two years, our congregation engaged with the Growing Young resource facilitated by Uniting Mission and Education’s Pulse team and out of this has sprung a group that meet fortnightly to continue creating and organising opportunities for our congregation to engage with families, youth and children in our community. This has led to creative and inclusive family worship gatherings that occur three times a school term, an annual Christmas Tree Festival and increased Fairtrade engagement with our local schools.
Bangalow Byron Bay UCA is a Fairtrade Faith Community and Bangalow is a Fairtrade town as a result of our endeavours to promote Fairtrade in our community. People from our congregation have been active in resourcing many UCA congregations around our Synod to engage in Fairtrade. We host an annual Fairtrade fair in Bangalow, offer Fairtrade Mother’s and Father’s Day Stalls at our local primary schools and regularly speak to our schools and communities about the importance of Fairtrade.These initiatives are also leading to wonderful connections and developing relationships with the local schools and communities. This is one way the congregation is seeking to be the best neighbours we can be, connecting with the local community as an active presence, as we promote and encourage Fairtrade and ethical purchasing as an outworking of our faith.
Our Op Shop is a beautiful reflection of our desire to engage with our community and this occurs on many levels. We have a wonderful team of volunteers who regularly go above and beyond to support the needs of people in our community in practical ways. This includes resourcing the local Homelessness Hub with clothing, offering supplies to those sleeping rough or fleeing from domestic violence situations and assisting individuals and other community organisations with needed resources. Open weekdays, the volunteer teams have become a community within a community and provide pastoral care and social connections for one another, as well as those who come in to the shop.
What energises the faith of this community?
Our community is energised through our weekly worship gatherings and our engagement with the ministries of our congregation in connection with the community. We are energised by offering inspired hospitality and far-reaching generosity at any and every opportunity and responding to the needs of the community around us in word and deed.
Where do you see God at work at the moment?
God has been preparing our hearts for change and for stepping into the future in new and exciting ways. Although in its early stages, we have seen God working as we engage in our mission planning as potential partnerships and new ventures arise, along with opening our eyes to the resources that we steward and how they can be used for ministry in fresh ways.
Our connections with local families have shown some signs of growth and new connections through the Growing Young project.
The needs of the rough sleepers and homeless in our region and responses to this are also evidence that God is active and working in the community. We see God at work in our community and continue to explore ways of joining in what God is already doing around us.
Are there any challenges you're facing there?
The recently released annual NSW Street Count has resulted in our local government area now having the highest number of people sleeping rough in the state, moving ahead of the City of Sydney. The impacts of this on our community are huge and the needs are great. In recent years we have developed a Severe Wet Weather Shelter in partnership with the local community centre and this has seen our Byron Bay church space opened for rough sleepers to sleep in when severe weather hits, as there are no community facilities set up for such occasions.
A fire (just last month) at our Byron Bay Church building which has caused extensive damage, was the result of our connection with rough sleepers who shelter under the verandahs of our church. This has led to questioning how we can safely minister to the needs of our neighbours who are regularly sleeping at our front door and how we can resource the needs of the growing rough sleeping community.
While there are currently none of our amazing UCA agencies or missions present or offering support in our region, there is a researched and demonstrated deep need in our community for resources that these agencies offer and we are hopeful that with these significant and growing needs that partnerships and resources may present themselves, particularly as there are open arms of opportunity and welcome from our congregation and community.
What can the rest of the Church pray for there?
So many things! Our current mission planning and our ability to engage in God’s mission in our community. The intense needs of the rough sleepers and homeless in our community. Our ongoing connection with families and younger people as we seek to grow young and expand on our Growing Young Project. Resilience, patience, energy for those engaged actively in leading our ministries and an openness to the leading of God’s Spirit into the future.