GRACE and Goulburn, graveyards and schoolgirls
From Amy Junor
(Nearly) Pastor – GRACE Faith Community
‘Charity is no substitute for justice withheld’.
This was the theme of a retreat held by Santa Sabina Catholic Girls’ High School from Strathfield, Sydney, in partnership with GRACE Faith Community.
This partnership has been held over several years from the time of GRACE’s first minister, Rev Aimee Kent, through until now (ministry agent #3!). The supervising teachers intimated to me that previous years have been impactful and enthusiastically recommended between generations of students in their school.
As a new-coming ministry agent in Goulburn (a meeting place from time beyond memory and even to this day) it has been a fantastic opportunity to hear the story of justice, service and compassion that is being written in the Goulburn region.
65 young women (year 11) from Sydney spent 2 days alongside members of GRACE as they offered service to local Goulburn charities, agencies, and volunteer groups. Our base of operations was the Goulburn Uniting Church grounds on Goldsmith St, graciously made available by the congregation.
On the first day of the retreat, the students completed a range of tasks, between cleaning and alphabetising ‘the Den’ community’s extensive board game collection, pitching and sorting camping equipment (un-used due to COVID-19) and discarding unsalvageable items. They sorted through the non-perishable donations the students had contributed (2-3 full car loads!) and interacted with Rev Daniel Mossfield about Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy. Rev Mossfield later reflected on the engaged theological discussion that emerged. A passing GRACE community member text messaged us during this time to comment on the hive of activity they saw in the Goulburn Uniting Church grounds as the students moved from one activity to the next.
We then heard from a local hospital chaplain about her work and reflected on the difference between sympathy and empathy based on a talk by Brene Brown: https://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw
Finally, we heard from an Anglicare representative on the issues experienced and faced during homelessness. The teachers then challenged the students to feed themselves for the night on $2.50 (they were not allowed to pool their money). Adding to the impact of all these activities was the dreary, freezing cold rain that fell into the night, the students were encouraged to reflect on how such discomforts might look for somebody facing a night sleeping rough.
On Thursday, the students visited the Goulburn wetlands to learn about conservation and sustainability.
The students assisted a local volunteer group in weeding and maintaining a Goulburn cemetery using environmentally friendly techniques; an interaction between generations that made the local newspaper: https://www.goulburnpost.com.au/story/7301442/visiting-students-dig-in-to-help-old-cemeterys-rejuvenation/?cs=181
Interestingly, the main section that the young women worked in was the Methodist section of the cemetery. This means that they were honouring and maintaining the memory of some who had been part of building the very same church they were meeting in during other sessions. What a wonderful connection that even departed congregation members still (in a way) afforded a learning experience to a new generation!
Students also made sustainable beeswax wraps to help stock and provide a little extra revenue for the Goulburn Uniting Church Op Shop when they can open again post-COVID. Beeswax wraps provide an alternative, reusable, environmentally friendly replacement for plastic food packaging, such as clingwrap.
Later, the students heard from a Farmers for Climate Action spokesperson about windfarms and the various issues facing farmers (especially during recent difficult times). I have remarked to several colleagues how encouraging it is to hear the enthusiasm of each of our speakers to share their experience and expertise with the students.
The students have also created some cards to be sent to the local prison inmates via the local Catholic cathedral.
Finally, they heard from a GRACE member on their experience with KAIROS – and the positive impact of being part of an inclusive community at GRACE, affirming LGBTIQ+ people in whoever they are, and whoever they love. The vision statement of GRACE is ‘breaking down barriers to belonging’ and as we shared this with the students, I was re-inspired by this idea and grateful that this space exists for those who have perhaps not found belonging in other church settings.
We thank the Goulburn Uniting Church congregation on behalf of the students and the GRACE communities for their generous hospitality in the Wesley centre and worship space. This retreat would not have gone ahead without your support.
As the GRACE reference group reflected on this retreat on Monday, we mused that although GRACE is small; the impact of such a faith community working together and reaching out in their locality means the crossing of many paths that would not have interacted otherwise.
The impact will, naturally, be of different sizes and shapes - a reflection of what it looks like when people of multiple generations, denominations, interests, and concerns come together in conversation and service.
I am now one month and a half into my placement at GRACE. Excited to see what comes next.