We are both over six feet tall and share the same surname, but we are very different. We are unrelated, support different rugby league teams, hold differing theological understandings and church experiences, and lead very different parishes.
However, in early 2021 we began to explore what working together could look like. The Parish of Robina is a Diocesan Resource Church. So it is on The Parish of Robina’s heart to go beyond growing and flourishing as an individual parish, as we seek to encourage, equip and resource other parishes to grow and flourish in their own way.
If we only knew of each other by what people think of and say about us as individuals, then we probably never would have sat down for a conversation. Fortunately, we have known each other for over 20 years. When Eron was in theological college, we belonged to the same parish in suburban Newcastle and the same Bible study group. So when Eron was appointed to Burleigh Heads, it was a chance to rekindle an old friendship.
We have both heard each other referred to by potentially polarising theological “labels”, and associated church jargon. Fortunately, however, because of our relational history, we know that we transcend the stereotypes of such labels, and so it was easy to begin a conversation about how we might work together as parish priests.
In the 1960s, The Parish of Burleigh Heads planted a church in Mermaid Beach, which, after a couple of location moves, became The Parish of Robina as we now know it. We are friends from way back, and belong to church communities that are family. So while we may not be related, our parishes are!
We initially sat down with Bishop John Roundhill who encouraged us to strive for the “low-hanging fruit”. This included our respective Parish Councils agreeing to explore working together, which they did unanimously and quickly. Both of us, however, wanted to bite off a little more…
Some of the things we have bitten off include:
- Robina’s Young Adults Group now physically meets at Burleigh Heads and The Rev’d Eron shares leadership responsibilities of the group with The Rev’d Canon Stewart and Robina’s The Rev’d Mary-Anne Rulfs.
- These Young Adults have begun visioning a new service or event located at Burleigh Heads.
- We share a common preaching calendar and preaching series, with all clergy sharing in the development of corresponding Bible study resources.
- We have developed a sense of being a team with combined staff meetings. Eron and Stewart prioritise meeting together to connect, debrief and imagine.
- Christmas 2021 was delivered and promoted collaboratively, with the highlight being a new outdoor carols service on the Burleigh Heads lawn supported by young musicians from Robina.
- When Burleigh Heads opened a thrift shop, Robina provided some wisdom from experience, as well as stock.
- The people at Robina provide goods for practical welfare support delivered from Burleigh Heads.
- The Business Manager at Robina is now undertaking the treasurer function for Burleigh Heads.
- Robina provides Burleigh Heads with clergy during periods of leave.
- Robina is in the process of helping to rebuild Burleigh’s website.
- Eron has met with Robina’s government-funded families intervention co-ordinator to explore how programs can be expanded to meet the outcomes of the funding.
- We have made a commitment to mutual invitation. When there is something of note on at one parish, we will invite the community from the other.
- Stewart has spoken at a Burleigh Men’s Breakfast and Eron will be an upcoming speaker at one of Robina’s.
Eron has asked, “What does Robina get out of this relationship?” Stewart’s response is that it is important for the Robina community to keep growing in the understanding that being Church is more than about their parish and that the Kingdom of God is not the kingdom of one church, one parish or one person. As Burleigh begins to flourish once again, and in new ways, this will also nourish the Robina community.
Both of us want to help steward the Church through current challenges by trying new things. We agree that one of the most radical things is finding parishes who are willing to break out of the old model of “one parish can be all things to all people” into something different. We can absolutely be better together. Eron reckons that collaborating creates unseen opportunities and turbo charges Kingdom ministry.
As we move forward, we are developing a covenantal-like relationship between our two faith communities. We are committed to affirming the unique stories, identities and charisms of each faith community; to speak well of each other in all circumstances; and, to proactively seek out opportunities where we can support, encourage and collaboratively work together to serve God and the Gold Coast people.
10 top tips for parish collaboration:
- Seek first to find points of commonality rather than points of difference.
- Take the time to get to know people in other churches and understand their gifts and talents, building on your strengths.
- Become a cheerleader for other parishes and practise the discipline of speaking well of each other.
- Be brave and try new stuff.
- Hold both failure and success lightly.
- Celebrate your differences because they will likely become unique offerings and specialities.
- Ask the question: “Could this be more effective if we didn’t do it by ourselves?”
- Resist trying to do everything.
- Be humble and honest about what you do well and what you do not do well.
- Ask for help when you need it and realise that we are all made to work better together.