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Integrated Mission Matters

Integrated Mission Matters

Hamilton is not only New Zealand’s fourth largest city, but also the fastest growing. With a population of 185,300 (as of June 2023), 3.5 percent of New Zealanders call Kirikiriroa home. While it was named the most beautiful large city in New Zealand in 2020, the team at Hamilton City Salvation Army knows full well that it has an ugly side.

Words Jules Badger

It’s just heartbreaking,’ says Hamilton City Salvation Army Centre Director Captain Stu Lee as he shares the story of a young woman who came to the centre for help.

‘She was living in her car and while she was here, she had a phone call explaining that her mother had passed away. She just lost it out in the carpark. All we could do was keep her safe because she was so distressed. And that’s not an isolated story. Levels of deprivation and poverty have compounded in recent years, so when life explodes unexpectedly on top of daily life that is already challenging, it’s overwhelming. We’ve had people fighting just to get in the door, which is indicative of the extreme levels of anxiety people in our city are living with. We’re seeing a tangible shift and people are on edge when they arrive. The need is real and deep, and so is the challenge to meet that need.’

Sixty percent of Hamilton’s population live in significant deprivation, with some suburbs scoring a ten on the deprivation index. The unemployment rate is currently 7.5 percent, which puts the city at 87 percent above the national average. Despite these many challenges, Stu, Captain Michelle Lee and the team at Hamilton City Salvation Army remain resolute in their mission.

‘It’s certainly hard for the team at times,’ Stu says, ‘but they are so dedicated in their work. And while the complex and sad reality of some people’s circumstances can leave a heaviness of heart, they don’t give up. They work hard to provide the right support and help people find a way through. So we pray for the armour of God to be solid and protective, but also pliable as they listen to connect and really hear what’s going on for people.’

Intentional integration

Hamilton City Salvation Army has been working strategically for some years now to become a healthy and effective expression of integrated mission.

‘Here at Hamilton City Salvation Army, we are all about integrated mission,’ says Stu. ‘Everything that happens here is equally important. Everyone who comes through the doors is equally valued. We are not a corps with Community Ministries tacked on, but an integrated mission centre. We want everyone to understand that they belong to Hamilton City Salvation Army. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what service you’re connected with—how you’ve come to be part of us—you belong to Hamilton City Salvation Army.’

Stu draws on the image of weaving when talking about integrated mission. ‘It’s about connection and building trust. It’s a personal handshake through to the next space or opportunity based on a weaving together of relationships.’

That weaving includes subtle shifts in language which is important because it communicates intention—especially when practice is catching up with theory. ‘We are Hamilton City Salvation Army—everyone together. And we’re trying to be intentional about the language we use to express that,’ explains Stu. The nuance is subtle and extends to Stu’s title. ‘I’m not the corps officer (church leader), because centre director makes more sense when you think in terms of integrated mission.’

Stu admits he sometimes slips into the default language, but he is determined. ‘We’re trying to make everyone feel included, so we have to change how we describe ourselves and what we do. For example, I’m certainly not the only person people can talk with about faith. It can happen in any number of different ways, with different people, at different times. Anyone can come through our doors and connect and explore faith in a way that works best for them,’ explains Stu. ‘It’s important that we understand our Sunday congregation is just one of three congregations who worship here.’

Three in one

On the second Saturday of each month, beginning at 5pm, Hamilton City Salvation Army offers an evening described as ‘family-focused, fun-filled faith exploration’ that includes a family meal.

‘The Gathering’ has grown from a small study group who shared a meal together to a community church of over 100. Run by an enthusiastic and committed team of 20-plus volunteers and overseen by long-time leaders Paul and Rachel Gower, The Gathering is a space where anyone can belong and serve.

‘The Gathering’s definitely not a kids’ programme—not a drop-off,’ laughs Paul. ‘It’s all in, everyone together. And it’s totally open—you don’t have to have kids to come.’

Paul is careful to explain that, ‘The Gathering is just another lens of faith expression within Hamilton City Salvation Army. And like Sunday church and Recovery Church, The Gathering has its own look, feel and smell. We’re seeing a lot more integration across these congregations—a lot more blurring of the lines.’

Stu loves that Hamilton City Salvation Army has more than one faith expression. ‘It’s about people feeling included. There’s a space for everyone. We have staff who work for us during the week at Community Ministries who attend on Sundays, and others who go to Recovery Church. Last night at The Gathering, there was this flow of people serving in that space from different facets of centre life. But they are all part of the Hamilton City Salvation Army family.’

Gathering together

Paul explains that The Gathering ecosystem has two events a month, one being community church on Saturday evening, and the second is a family movie night. ‘We have those back-to-back—loading up the front of the month—on purpose,’ says Paul. ‘It’s been a purposeful decision to make it work for blended families and those sharing custody.’

Rachel explains that ‘we’ve always had the vision that this would be a space where families who are broken can come together, as a common place, even for teenagers. We remind parents that teens don’t have to join in activities or serve—they will get to that and share their gifts and talents in time—but they can just “be”. They often clump together and play board games and just hang out until dinner. But they are there in the same building as their families, and that’s actually normal teenage behaviour.’

The Gowers are passionate about ministry to families, whatever shape or size they come in. ‘It’s important to us that no one in the family is left out or left behind,’ says Rachel. ‘There are a lot of large families around that can’t even go to the movies because of the cost. Creating a space where you can take the whole family out and access something fun and meaningful and share kai (food) together without it costing the earth is another key driver for us.’

Some of The Gathering families have been around since its inception over a decade ago. ‘The Gathering family is dynamic and fluid, and some members are pretty transient, but they always come back eventually. What we used to think of as regular in terms of church attendance has changed dramatically. Life is more complex and “regular” has more to do with depth of relationship than attendance.’

Light-emitting disciples

With a background as an electrical inspector, Stu believes the team at Hamilton City Salvation Army are like LEDs. ‘I’ve been thinking about the different generations of light bulbs and how they have changed over time. LEDs, for example, are brighter, they last longer and are more sustainable. We need to be LEDs—light-emitting disciples! We need to stay plugged in to the source so that we can not only shine for Jesus but shine brighter and for longer. The world can be a dark place and the temptation is for us to get comfortable and enjoy the light, but we have to remember that we are on a battleship not a cruiseliner and we have a purpose—to win souls.’

Stu explains that he was reminded recently that those who come through the doors of Hamilton City Salvation Army are not clients, but souls. ‘Like the image of the Titantic, we have souls to save. And when we think this way about the people who come in for help, then all the labels and assumptions fall away. When we think about the person standing in front of us as first and foremost a soul created and loved by God, well, that changes everything.’  

Above: Centre Director Captain Stu Lee (left) and Whānau (family) Support Worker Lynley McInnes from Hamilton City Salvation Army.

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