Churches join forces to change their city

Churches from across the Sydney suburb of Ryde will meet with the local council this Sunday to create a blueprint for change in their city.

The meeting is the idea of Ryde Pastor’s Network – a group of 11 pastors from the local Salvation Army, Baptist, Presbyterian, Wesley, Anglican and Lutheran churches.

“We’re looking to stop just pastoring a flock and to start pastoring the city,” explains Greigory Whittaker, leader of Ryde Salvation Army.

The City of Ryde – 12 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD – spans sixteen suburbs (including Ryde itself). It is home to around 128,000 people, of which around half were born overseas. The population is growing by 2.5 per cent a year – 56 per cent above the national average. According to a report in The Australian, the area is suffering from “growing pains”, such as traffic congestion, overcrowded schools and hospitals, and increased crime.

The Ryde Pastor’s Network, along with some congregation members, is meeting with a Ryde councillor and council members to discuss a collective response to other key social issues affecting the local community, including pornography, prostitution, domestic violence and mental illness.

“We’re looking at the ‘tears in our city’ – the particular issues that are broken in our city – and looking to launch engagement groups in each of those categories,” explains Whittaker.

Around 110 people are expected to attend the four-hour meeting, which will begin with a lunch where council and church members can get to know each other. Afterwards, council members will share their ideas about the major social issues affecting Ryde.

Experts will then present short talks on some of the issues, including Christian lawyer Steve Frost, who will speak about domestic violence from his experience supporting clients in this situation. Prominent anti-porn campaigner Letitia Shelton will talk about her work in battling pornography (as CEO of City Women Toowoomba). She will also share her vision about city-wide transformation and how to engage people in it.

A practical brainstorming session will follow, to workshop ideas which can address issues.

“We very much believe that people need to build it together, not come to a pre-described plan of action,” says Whittaker. “We are really looking to be the ones who release diverse groups across the body of Christ and have them develop their community engagement together.”

“We’re very focused on a city outlook, but we’re building the foundations for that on strong relationships and prayer.” – Greigory Whittaker

The Ryde Pastor’s Network, which began meeting monthly almost three years ago, has 11 pastors involved.

“We’ve spent time really building trust and relationships. We’re very focused on a city outlook, but we’re building the foundations for that on strong relationships and prayer,” Whittaker explains.

The network has already created a sub-committee to work on creating good communities in high-rise apartment towers.

“We’ve joined with Macquarie University to do a research piece on ‘vertical villages’,” says Whittaker.

Findings from the 12-month research project will be released in late 2020. “Again, we’re looking at serving the body of Christ by making [the report findings] widely available. We’re looking to end up with a toolkit for engaging with those in high-rise living, and a bunch of outcomes.”

One of these outcomes could be pathways for churches to work with developers and councils in the planning of “socially integrated communities” in and around high-rise complexes, where a church plant could even be opened on site.

Following Sunday’s meeting with the council, Ryde Pastor’s Network hopes to launch cross-denominational engagement groups to respond to the community needs identified.

“The pastors really see themselves as not responsible for doing everything, but as the releasers, the resourcers, the encouragers and to keep accountable the various streams of activity in serving the city,” says Whittaker.