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Church by the Seashore makes creative waves

By Paul Titus

The creativity and commitment of a small congregation in rural Manukau has inspired a young minister and he, in turn, is doing all he can to provide them the support they need to carry on their work.

‘Alipate Uhila is the probationer presbyter at Pukekohe Methodist Parish. The parish has congregations in Pukekohe, Karaka, and Clarks Beach.

The Clarks Beach congregation is called Church by the Seashore, and, while it is under Methodist oversight, it is truly a community church. Its members come from a range of denominational backgrounds, and they focus on being a positive force in their community.

‘Alipate says a few years ago the Church by the Seashore was struggling with just a few active members. Today it is thriving with up to 20 attending services. He attributes the turnaround to the congregation’s creativity and its connection with the community.

"For many congregations creativity has come to mean using data projectors, DVDs or other new technologies in their worship. But the Clarks Beach congregation focuses its creativity in arts and crafts and other activities that include both children and adults. It is also open to creative, informal styles of worship," he says.

"The congregation’s other source of strength is its community outreach. The members have a wealth of talents and skills and they use them for ministry and mission in the community."

A key person in the Clarks Beach congregation is Ruth Manning. Officially the parish steward, Ruth says she is best described as the local dog’s body. Whatever her title, her energy and passion are clear.

She explains the Methodist origins of the congregation: "Rev Everill Orr had a bach at Clarks Beach. He initiated the church in 1953. It was originally built on land that is beach access so it was moved to its present location. It has always been very much as a community church," Ruth says.

"We collect food for the food bank and we hold lots of activities that involve people from the community who do not attend church. For example, we have a library that is open on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11:30. Some of our books are donated and our volunteer librarian Pat Owen gets others from the Waiuku library.

"We also have a homework club on Thursday afternoons. Several retired teachers help out. They are not all members of the congregation.

"In September we had a spring flower service and we delivered 40 bouquets to people in the community, mostly to elderly people who cannot get to church."

The Church by the Seashore also serves as a community hall for Clarks Beach. It is the town’s polling place during elections, and a number of groups such as ratepayers and the local business association hold their meetings there.

Art plays a big part in the life of the Clarks Beach congregation. Another of its weekly activities is Wednesday afternoon ‘art and drop in sessions’ for mothers and children. Ruth says the low key approach of the art sessions is a way to get people in touch with the church in a way that is not necessarily religious. A key person in this area is Liz Harrop, a leader of the art team.

The artwork is not just for outsiders, however. The congregation has made a dazzling array of banners and displays, which add to its creative worship atmosphere.

For its Christmas display, for example, the congregation imagined that Jesus was born today. Angels would send the news via mobile phones, the Shepherds would travel on quad bikes, and the kings would travel by private jet.

In addition to its own members, the Church by the Seashore often attracts people holidaying in Clarks Beach. For example, every year a Catholic scout troop stays at nearby Camp Morley and a number of the supervisors attend worship at the Church by the Seashore.

‘Alipate says he is excited about working with the Church by the Seashore because it displays vision, passion and action.

"Sometimes a church has one or another of these but the Clarks Beach congregation has all three. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with them. My role is to act as a facilitator so they can use their gifts."