Gordon Buxton leads BaptistCare’s HopeStreet and he’s also involved in church planting in the western Sydney suburb of Lalor Park. He’s a pioneering leader, who expresses his commitment to justice and mercy both in the ministry of BaptistCare HopeStreet and in his church planting. Here’s the story of BaptistCare HopeStreet and the church plant.
BaptistCare HopeStreet provides support in many different ways to people who are living on the margins and often forgotten within our neighbourhoods. They are passionate about serving the urban poor and many of the most disadvantaged people in our cities through community development initiatives, support for the homeless, women’s services, gambling and financial counselling, and employment training programs.
… It is necessary to meet not only people’s physical needs but also their spiritual needs.
What are the innovative ways that BaptistCare HopeStreet expresses justice and mercy? The HopeStreet team aims to express a holistic approach to mission, understanding that it is necessary to meet not only people’s physical needs but also their spiritual needs. This cannot happen without the involvement of local churches, which exist to support the spiritual and everyday needs of their surrounding communities.
BaptistCare HopeStreet seeks to partner with local churches at every opportunity. Over 900 members of local congregations have learned about homelessness and serving the poorest people in Australia, by getting involved in BaptistCare HopeStreet’s Urban Engagement Program.
BaptistCare HopeStreet knows that it is not the church. So, it partners with local churches in three key areas.
The first way they work with local churches is to love people where they are at without passing judgment. A beautiful example of this is the work of BaptistCare HopeStreet’s Women’s Services Program, where the team connects with women who are working in the sex industry.
… These events are a powerful reminder that they do have value and that they belong.
Diminished choice is often a factor for women who are working in the sex industry and who access Women’s Services. The women have often experienced financial hardship, unstable accommodation and homelessness, trauma histories, domestic violence and drug dependence. They can also be from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, which means, due to language barriers or visa status, it can be difficult for them to access traditional services.
Regardless of the circumstances or barriers they face, stigma and stereotypes that society has about sex work often leads to these women facing social isolation or discrimination. This can compound the disadvantage or marginalisation they face, so a key factor in how Women’s Services operates is to increase a women’s sense of belonging, as well as using their professional skill set to increase choice and safety.
A beautiful way that the church plays a part in increasing belonging is by hosting regular high tea events in our community. The event serves as a medium where both women in the church and women in the sex industry work together in contributing to the event by cooking, decorating, and most importantly getting to know each other through conversation, and establishing friendships.
For the women that access Women’s Services, these events are a powerful reminder that they do have value and that they belong. It reinforces to them that, regardless of what choices they make or don’t make, they are supported where they are at and they know there is a company of other women cheering them on.
For the women in the church it’s a valuable opportunity for them to break down stereotypes they might have, address stigma they might hold and perhaps most importantly, embody the way of the gospel in bringing those on the margins to the centre.
“It is important to be prepared to sit in the gutter with a person.” – Matt, HopeStreet volunteer
BaptistCare HopeStreet also helps local churches to stand with people in their neighbourhoods at their point of need. Whether it’s serving people experiencing homelessness, working in the sex industry, struggling with addictions, living in social housing, or working in corporate jobs, local churches need support to serve their communities.
Matt, who worked with BaptistCare HopeStreet in previous years, says, “If we are to truly connect with our communities, it is important to be prepared to sit in the gutter with a person, be prepared to walk into a brothel, be prepared to go places we wouldn’t normally go, and be prepared to do whatever it takes to meet people and connect with them.”
The final key area is connecting people with God and celebrating that connection. BaptistCare HopeStreet seeks to partner with local churches in addressing the spiritual needs of the community. David’s story illustrates how this can happen.
David was homeless for over two years with no job prospects. BaptistCare’s HopeEnterprise’s Employment Training Program gave David the opportunity to gain a qualification that led to a job and a steady income. This led to David being able to secure a home of his own. BaptistCare HopeStreet was able to assist in meeting David’s physical needs, but was not able to sustain David’s spiritual needs. That mandate rests with the local church.
A local church came alongside David, and helped him explore a life of discipleship and faith. Now David has a job, and a relationship with Jesus.
“What would it mean to help the community have pride in the place they live?” – Gordon Buxton
Gordon Buxton doesn’t just live out his commitment to justice and mercy through BaptistCare HopeStreet, but also through his church planting in Lalor Park. Fifteen years ago, Gordon and his family felt a deep call to western Sydney. They took six months to pray through where to plant, and God called them to Lalor Park. They bought a house in the poorest area of that suburb, and decided not to plant an ordinary church. When they first arrived in Lalor Park, they noticed that some locals struggled to feel pride in their suburb, because of the social and economic difficulties. Gordon thought, “What would it mean to help the community have pride in the place they live?”
Gordon and his family immersed themselves in the Lalor Park community. They started an after-school programme for children, and a Tuesday night dinner that was open to the community (they avoided planting a “traditional church”). As they got to know the community they asked, “What are your needs? What would change this community?”
Gordon and his planting team are committed to being a part of the Lalor Park community because the community has the solutions to their social and economic struggles; planters from outside the community don’t. Gordon says, “We can’t do church in needy and marginalised areas the way we do church in middle-class areas. Regardless of the suburb our church is in, discussions about spiritual and social wellbeing flow naturally out of doing life together in a local neighbourhood. If we are about serving physical needs, but ignore spiritual needs, then we are not loving.”
What is the challenge for the local church?
“Likewise, if the church only looks at spiritual needs and doesn’t minister to people’s physical needs, then we are not loving. It’s crucial that we serve people’s spiritual needs and their other needs. This is about justice and mercy.”
What is the challenge for the local church? It’s a challenge to us to embrace God’s heart for the marginalised and poor, and those often forgotten by society and church. If you want to impact your community, join with God in what he’s already doing there. Do you really understand the needs of the community in which you live? Sometimes we look around the suburb our church is in, and wonder if needs exist. But if we truly dig deep we find that every community has needs.
Are we inviting the community to have a voice in our churches? This may be through partnering with local people and groups who are already doing something to assist their community, or it may involve inviting people in our community to tell us what the needs are in our neighbourhood.
If you want to impact your community, embrace justice and mercy. We do this by loving people where they are at without passing judgment, by standing with people in their neighbourhoods at their point of need, and by connecting people with God and celebrating that connection. These are the practical and local expressions of justice and mercy.
Graham Hill is the Provost of Morling College, Sydney. Rebekah Coles is at Morling too, and she researches pioneering expressions of church and mission.