Walk, pray and love your community

How might 500 people’s prayers, as they walked their local streets, literally praying over their neighbourhood, lead to change? Father Tony Kerin, of St Francis Xavier and St Clare in Box Hill, believes that amount of prayer gets answered.

And that answer was pretty extraordinary!

Let’s go back a few steps – or maybe nearly 3 years – when Whitehorse Churches Care (WCC) was formed.

Whitehorse is a local government area in the eastern suburbs Bible belt of Melbourne. There is no shortage of churches, including CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) congregations. And, like most churches, until 2019 they tended to serve their own community in their own church bubble.

It didn’t just happen, of course.

In 2019, it was quiet, behind-the-scenes, relationship building that led to a moment in time when 28 churches came together to form WCC. And before that, the faithful work of three churches combining to bring a carols service to the broader community over many years.

A registered charity, WCC is committed to strengthening connections between faith groups, local agencies and other service providers. In 2021, WCC put in an enormous effort to begin a ‘Winter Shelter’ program, using church buildings to offer hospitality and shelter to people experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, lockdowns brought about by COVID stopped the program flying in quite the way they had hoped. But the groundwork has been done.

Prayer Walk Week was held in October last year … And 500 people participated.

Prayer Walk Week was held in October last year. People were encouraged to register. The website provided some ideas about what to pray for as people walked their local streets. Walkers were encouraged to be intentional about noticing what was happening around them. And 500 people participated.

The Graham Kendrick, Steve Hawthorne book, Prayer Walking: Praying on site with insight, describes prayer walking as “ordinary believers stepping into the streets to pray effectively for their neighbours. With eyes wide open to real needs and with ears open to the promptings of God’s Spirit, intercession becomes an adventure.”

What was God’s answer to those prayers for a loved neighbourhood?

An unsolicited phone call from Forest Hill Chase (one of the local shopping centres) offering free use of retail space in the centre, in the hope that WCC would do something for the community which would increase foot traffic in the mall.

What a remarkable opportunity. And now this collaboration of churches is seeking ideas from its communities about how they could effectively use this incredible space. They are wanting to offer a ‘ministry of presence’ to the workers in the centre. And whatever is born through this process, it will be done to support and encourage the other retailers as well.

“Its formation couldn’t have come at a better time. I want to commend all the fantastic work you are doing.” – Tina Liu, Mayor of Whitehorse

Father Tony was speaking at a breakfast meeting of the WCC hosted by New Hope Baptist Church, Blackburn North, combined with the launch of the Whitehorse Impact Audit undertaken by NAYBA Australia in partnership with WCC. He is on the WCC board, chaired by Allan Demond, senior minister of New Hope.

46 per cent of all faith-based organisations in Whitehorse responded to the NAYBA survey. The audit determined that 15 of the greatest social needs in the region were being addressed through 94 community service activities undertaken by WCC.

And, in the past year, over 20,000 people were beneficiaries of these services which have a yearly social impact value to the city of Whitehorse of $3,450,275.

The Mayor of Whitehorse, Tina Liu, spoke warmly about the work of the Whitehorse Churches Network.

“Its formation couldn’t have come at a better time,” Ms Liu told the breakfast gathering. “I want to commend all the fantastic work you are doing in this space.

“Social connection has been identified as one key area [in the audit]. Whitehorse Churches Network are doing great work at Box Hill Central and Forest Hill Chase as well.”

The Mayor said she was looking forward to continuing to work with the churches “for positive outcomes for our community”.