02 Nov, 2023 Invercargill’s Community Service Day – a unity story
Invercargill’s Community Service Day
(Credits for photo – Stuff NZ)
With a vision to engage more widely in the community, Ps Keith Harrington of Invercargill Central Baptist proposed a day given to serving the community in practical hands-on ways. Having many practical skills himself, this was also something he knew he could bring a lead to.
It takes time
There wasn’t a lot of interst intiially. The first year had one church – his – with 100 volunteers. The second year he had 150 volunteers. The third year another church joined – a brethren church. That was this year – 2023, and they had 250 volunteers. The impact is now so clear that a number of other churches are considering joining.
Next year he is thinking to plan service projects suiting 500 volunteers, from 5 churches.
He decided early on to have it on a Sunday. For one – church members are available, rather than running their kids to sports events. This seemed strange to many at first – but has worked. They meet 8am for tea/coffee a briefing and prayer. Eveyone serves 9am to 12pm – carrying their own water bottle and morning tea with them.
18 projects – one one day
The 2023 effort included 18 different community service projects, including partnerships with 5 schools, a neighbourhood, a regeneration group, an environmental group, the council, local marae, and 3 other charities.
- A partnership council and a local environmental trust planted 2500 trees. In fact, there were 3 planting projects in the one day.
- At a new Marae a team helped demolish an old building with sledge hammers. The local hapu has a lack of manpower – so this was a blessing.
- At one of the schools they painted the picnic tables and all hand rails – giving them new life. They also barked (put bark on) the playground and weeded the gardens.
- At another school they did cleaning, barking, cleaned the foyer and painted lines on concrete for ball games.
- Partnering with the Red Cross who work with refugees in Invercargill, they build picnic tables and sorted donated bedding in a warehouse.
- With ‘Jubilee Budgeting Services’ they went out to do some garden make-overs for their clients.
- Other teams helped at a preschool, did a beach clean-up, and one team went to put on a special morning tea to thank the crews of the local fire, police and ambulance services.
In total, there were 18 concurrent projects.
In this Keith has leveraged the many contacts he’s built over the years in Invercargill – while finding team leaders to connect with each project. For some projects the partnering charity manage it – like with the environmental trust – so it’s just a case of providing manpower (which was 15 volunteers in that instance).
Publicity – not the goal – while maybe a byproduct
A notable dynamic is that Keith wanted the integrity of this to be pure. With this in mind he hasn’t sought media engagement around the efforts. He instead chose to let that take care of itself – if ever. However, with their reputation having grown considerably through these efforts, that is taking place – and is likely to do so even more-so in to the future.
Keith commented on how the Council sometimes seems to have different people in some roles each year – and yet the reputation of what they were doing had filtered through to each new staff.
As one charity group has commented, “How on Earth do you find 250 volunteers like that?”
Keith predicts that this effort will naturally expand their connections and reputation. But he’s clear that this reputation was not their motive. They engaged to help. They engaged because that is what we’re supposed to do as churches. Instead of sitting ‘safely’ in our walls – what if we gave just one day to all going out to make a difference?
We – God’s Church – have an amazing resource in our hands. It is God’s people – and they have considerably servant-hearts because their characters have been shaped by the work of God’s Spirit within them!
It’s an amazing model.
There are maybe 40 or more churches in Invercargill – and with only two involved thus far this effort already has the attention of, and favour from, Council, Iwi and various other social service groups and charities.
The way we engage in our communities matters.
This is certainly an idea and approach that could be duplicated!
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.