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Stillwaters run deep in inner city Wellington

By Julia Stuart

At the top of Cuba Street, inner city Wellington, a Sunday night and a community church service is under way in Stillwaters, a large ground-floor room in a converted factory known as ‘the castle’. Some 20 people are gathered for a simple liturgy involving prayer, songs, sharing of a story, a Bible reading, and time of quiet. They come in off the street as well as from nearby homes, many are regulars, some are new. They take part in time of worship and then time to talk, to plan next week’s service and sometimes to have fun.

Stillwaters is run by a team from Urban Vision, a network of individuals, families and households in Wellington, whose ministry focuses on building relationships with people marginalised by mainstream society.

Four Urban Vision teams operate in various parts of the region. The 15 members of the inner city team which runs Stillwaters live across four households in the immediate area – Cuba Street, Willis Street, and Abel Smith Street. They’re right in among the urban decay, low-rent area where many houses have been demolished or shifted to make room for the motorway extension. In the midst of this they minister to the local community – people without jobs, people with mental health problems, addiction problems, sex workers, the lonely and isolated.

Andrew Green has been involved in Urban Vision since the mid-1990s, when it was a community group working with young people. Stillwaters was then run by Wellington Central Baptist Church as a drop-in for street people. Andrew says over time the drop-in moved to shopfront premises serving mid-day meals, with a fulltime community worker. In the late 1990s, Urban Vision took over the inner city presence from the Baptists, and team members moved to live around the shop.

The ministry is varied. As well as Sunday night church, weekly events include a shared Friday community meal, Bible study, and spiritual discussion group as well as a team meal and meeting. Other events such as camps and trips are organised – as when the community went to Jerusalem on the Wanganui River – and there are informal times when people just drop in for a chat and cuppa as they are passing.

Stillwaters is a safe place, particularly important for people such as the sex workers who work the inner city. It’s also a place where people are accepted for who they are, even if sometimes their behaviour is a bit bizarre though drunkenness and disruptions are discouraged. It’s very inclusive – people bring food for the Friday evening meal, or help serve or wash up; in the Sunday service, people bring a story, a prayer, or choose a song from the ever-growing song-book.

Andrew Green says it can be a bit tiring at times. “Most of the team have fulltime jobs, or are fulltime students, so this adds to an existing work load. Sometimes people test us, get angry, or challenge us to go on accepting them. There are amazing blessings too.”

People who join Urban Vision opt in for a defined period – two years or five years – and Andrew has now been there for 10.

Stillwaters is well named – a still clear stream in the heart of a busy and sometimes desperate part of the inner city. That stability provided by the Urban Vision team and the long-term commitment of people like Andrew is very important for such a place. They’re building the Kingdom of God in a simple, demanding but very Biblical way.