Changing names a turning point

‘Rouse Hill Community Baptist Church’ is the new name chosen by the congregation that has ministered in the strategic Rouse Hill-Kellyville area of north western Sydney for the past 13 years.  The church was born out of the vision of some local people who have lived in the area for fifteen years since the greater Rouse Hill area commenced its current development – a development that is now well on the way to maturity and moving towards the anticipated 300,000 people that it is planned will live here.

The commercial centre of the area is Rouse Hill Town Centre, a contemporary European-village-type shopping centre, rather than a mall, located next Vinegar Hill in north western Sydney. The Vinegar Hill convict upraising of 1804 has given the location its name. Convicts from a Parramatta convict farm met up with other convicts from Castle Hill linked up at Vinegar Hill and clashed with military forces and lost the ensuring struggle. Of course many of the convicts were Irish and soldiers and soldiers were of English origins. Some very earliest requiem masses in the emerging colony were celebrated for the Catholic convicts killed. Samuel Marsden was the Anglican Chaplain who pastorally cared for some soldiers who were injured. Thus an act of rebellion, justified or unjustified, indirectly led to the gospel coming to the area. There are apparently direct links between Marsden’s ministry at this time and the birth of St Paul’s Castle Hill and the later birth of a local Anglican congregation.

The Rouse Hill Town Centre library is named ‘Vinegar Hill’ library as an acknowledgement of importance of this event. The name ‘Rouse Hill’ comes from what is now‘Rouse Hill House’, the house built by the chief engineer who supervised the construction of Windsor Road. The history of the location makes it a vital in the forming the local culture of what was for a long time a prime rural community producing vegetables and other food stuffs for the city Sydney. The central area near the town centre later became the location for two golf courses. What was the Rouse Hill and Mungerie Park golf courses are built over with contemporary houses area. Initially Dural Church empowered the twelve foundation members of what was first called ‘Lighthouse Community Church’. They formed a core group for the new fellowship and started locally-based Bible studies in the Kellyville/Rouse Hill area.   Some members of the Dural Church made it financially possible for us to have our first church planting pastor, Rev Rob Tanner. Rob had previously been the church planter at Norwest Church in nearby Quakers Hill.

The foundation members were soon joined by others as the Bible studies continued and we all planned together for the commencement of our first Sunday services that took place a year after we started our ministry.   We delayed having our own services in order to give time to getting to know and become involved with our neighbours, rather than being isolated from them as a detached group.  The priority of becoming involved in the larger community has continued to be a basic value for the church. As a gathered congregation we first met in the Beaumont Hills Primary School buildings. We became involved in the school life assisting at school fetes, working bees and we ran the school Christmas Carols which were attended by Muslim, as well as other members of the school constituency. We chose the name ‘Lighthouse Community Baptist’ because we longed to be a light for Christ in this important emerging community centre and we felt that community connections were essential to the realisation of our vision.  We were conscious that we were one church plant among seventeen others, including all the better known denominations and some emerging charismatic groups.  However, we believed we had a distinctive place in this endeavour to bring the gospel to the greater Rouse Hill area including Kellyville.

It became untenable for the congregation of our growing size to meet at Beaumont Hills and have storage of our sound and other equipment so we had to choose a new site.   We moved to a new Rouse Hill Primary school named ‘Ironbark Ridge’ and found ourselves in an even newer part of the area and quite close to the as-yet-uncompleted site of the Rouse Hill Town Centre.   Relationships with Ironbark Ridge staff meant that we were among those who started scripture in the new school and we were on the ground for organizing the SRE programme, and appointed workers to serve in the new Rouse Hill High School next door.  Additionally we ran community events like trivia nights and dinners in nearby halls.  Carolling around homes in parts of Kellyville became a regular community ministry during this time.  Rob Tanner resigned after a five year ministry among us and moved to Ulladulla.  After a difficult pastor-less period we called Rev Ric Sindel to be our pastor.

At the suggestion of an older man in the congregation we then approached the Town centre and proposed that we would run a Billy Cart Derby at the Rouse Hill Town Centre on a given Sunday.  The event was a great success for the new centre and the number of people in the shops that day was hundreds above those of earlier weeks.   This initiative was partnered by a local inter-church men’s group, and other congregations in the area joined in with assisting with the logistics of managing closed streets and pedestrian crossings, running stalls promoting the gospel, and distributing information in sample bags from community agencies whose purpose was to empower and enrich community members.   Two local ‘Men’s Sheds’ built a number of billy carts for the event.  We ran school holiday preparatory sessions for the painting of the billy carts by children, and served coffee to waiting parents.

When Ironbark Ridge School informed us that we could no longer stay at the school because of the rate of its growth, we were offered free accommodation in the Town Centre itself in a spacious air conditioned space on the 1st floor above the main street.  Like our previous locations this distinctive location attracted other people to the congregation.  It also strengthened our ties with the management of the town centre.  When the centre serves its annual street Christmas dinner for shop owners the members of our congregation serve the meal as a way of partnering with the centre and serving others. The billy cart event has been repeated with more and more children competing each time for the past three years.  Main Street at Rouse Hill Centre is now closed off for the whole of the Sunday of the event.  Some children build their own billy carts to set specifications prior to the events.  Recently, we have started a similar event in one of the large local hotels in the school holidays.  Those who were involved in this event had a number of meaningful conversations with the pub staff members.  We have a continuing opportunity at this venue and have recently been asked to run a similar event in the grounds of ‘Rouse Hill House’ in early 2015.

In 2013 over twenty church members visited Israel with a Jewish guide and a Palestinian bus driver.  Aside from visiting biblical sites we spent some time in Haifa with Archbishop Elias Chacour, author of ‘Blood Brothers’ and many other books, and an advocate for Palestinian and Jewish reconciliation in education and work in Israel.   A second such excursion is planned early in 2015 with the pastor Ric Sindel as leader and with the same guide and bus driver. An emphasis of the ministry at Rouse Hill has been a desire to be involved in ministry to do with promoting of justice both locally and internationally, the abolition of international coffee slavery.  At the same time we contribute like so many others to the work of Samaritans’ Purse and the Operation Christmas Child project.  Our pastor visited northern Vietnam with this agency distributing the boxes to remote tribal communities.   Short term missions to Thailand have been a feature of overseas activity.  Thai members of the church are a key to this work, and engagement with Global Interaction’s cross cultural workers in northern Thailand is genuine and continuing. During 2014 we have commenced a playgroup in the park.  We take toys and other things needed for a playgroup in a trailer to a local park where we set up facilities, and a team of men and women assist mothers, grandmothers and children who come to the park for the event each Friday morning.  Talking with the carers is a vital part of this ministry.   Chinese, Caucasian, Nepalese, Indian, Malaysian, Turkish, Persian and Egyptian Australians come to the group regularly and some have started coming to worship services.  The latest development of this ministry includes invitations to children’s birthday parties in homes including those of Buddhist families.

Some ministries that individual members of the church participate in include ministry with refugees; Catalyst groups who work for justice; marriage enrichment leadership; volunteering at the blood bank; chaplaincy in aged care facilities; mentoring and spiritual direction. Early in 2014 the Rouse Hill Town Centre rented the sparc we were using, for $100,000 per annum to a commercial enterprise.  Financially disenfranchised, we had to move again. The local Seventh Day Adventist church offered us their portable buildings for Sunday use and we are presently their tenants.  We recognize that God is reminding us that we are a pilgrim people as we move about with no real estate of our own. This year Kate Lohmann was appointed part-time pastor for young families and children.  A weekly early high schoolers’ group has started up and wider family ministry is becoming revitalized. Women’s work is a feature of the church, in both specific women’s meetings and Bible study and mission groups.  The men have set up a ‘Men’s Unshed’ group that meets regularly to go on outings to things like the NSW Ambulance Control Centre, the Darling Harbour Maritime Museum and the new Northwest Rail Link sites.

A meaningful part of our continual ministry is a six-weekly ‘Conversations’ gathering that takes place on Sunday afternoon in a home.  At the group, normally attended by 12-15 people, we have a free discussion of a chosen topic for two hours and then share an evening meal. Topics have included such things as ‘suffering’, ‘healing’ ‘community’, ‘security’ and ‘joy’.  For some, this is among the most significant things we do as a community. Clearly God is graciously providing us opportunities to connect with the Rouse Hill community.   In addition to this development, new housing estates are opening along Withers Road in north Kellyville.  Three Christian families that we know are moving into these and we have a Bible study in the estates.  The hope is that we can reach out into this strategic location, talking about and preaching grace and doing justice.

We have come to the point that we are a little weary of explaining who we are as ‘Lighthouse’ even at the confusion of some in the Baptist Association so we have chosen to be Rouse Hill Community Baptist Church and to focus our attention on this increasingly important centre of the heart of north western Sydney.  In part we reflect the trends of the community and have in our number Kenyans, Congolese, Thai, Sri Lankans, and Indonesians; however, regrettably, we have not connected with the largest people group here, Filipinos. We have no people of Arabic culture in our number.  These are two areas we need to explore as we seek to be a missional presence in Rouse Hill and north Kellyville. We increasingly find at Rouse Hill Baptist Church that ministry involves discovering where God is acting and then getting on track with God.

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