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Refuge in Rolleston

Refuge in Rolleston

Lieutenants Grace and Stu Duxfield, leaders of the Rolleston Corps (Church) Plant since 2019, are people of hidden depths. Skimming the surface is not for them—treasure is found in the deep. The Rolleston crew are passionate about providing a safe harbour for those battling the waves to drop anchor and take refuge from the storm.

In 1990, Rolleston (Roretana, Tauwharekākaho), a little rural farming community located 22km south of Christchurch, had a population of just under 1000 people. Today it is an urban boom town of 28,000 and climbing, with people coming from across the country and all over the world. Why? With a nimble district council rapidly approving building consents post-Canterbury earthquakes, a continually expanding industrial subdivision providing plenty of employment opportunities for residents, along with soaring national house prices and the current cost-of-living crisis—well, you can get more bang for your buck in Rolleston.

Coming home

An obvious place for The Salvation Army to be, in 2014 newly commissioned officers Lieutenants Naomi and Nathan Holt took up the challenge of planting a missional expression in fast-growing Rolleston.

Three years into the planting journey, it was time for The Salvation Army Rolleston to find permanent digs. Salvation Army leadership supported the Holts to experiment with a centre that didn’t look like a traditional church. Not knowing entirely what that might mean at the time, a large house was purchased, now known as ‘Generation House’—a place where everyone is welcome.

‘The idea was for a space where you felt like you were coming home,’ explains Lieutenant Stu Duxfield. ‘Not a clinical space, but a familiar space where it just so happens you can access professional help.’

Growing pains

Before the earthquakes there was just one primary school in Rolleston, now there are eight. When Grace and Stu arrived in 2019, their son’s school had 250 students, now there are 700. There is currently one high school with 1900 students on its roll, but Stu reports that building is underway to extend the capacity to 2400 students. ‘There is a second campus due to open in 2025, with the combined capacity of both being 4500. It’s the fastest growing high school in the country, and on track to be the largest in New Zealand.

‘Rolleston as a community is really wrestling with what it means to have so many teenagers in town. In terms of the development plan for community spaces, Rolleston is about 15 years ahead of where they imagined the population to be,’ explains Stu. ‘There is no magic solution to answer the lack of infrastructure to support that exponential growth.’

Good things take time, but with such rapid growth, Rolleston is a town navigating constant growing pains while trying to form something of an identity. ‘The key challenge here is fostering a sense of community,’ says Grace. ‘There’s no history, so there’s no rhythm. Everyone is relatively new, so no one has long-standing relationships. We see across the board a pervasive sense of loneliness. When everything is unfamiliar and you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s hard for people to reach out and take that step of meeting new people. And Rolleston is quite a chaotic place to live—there are building sites of one form or another everywhere. We help as much as we can to provide opportunities for people to connect with one another, so we can all be part of growing together as a community. It’s exciting, but it’s still a challenge.’

Weight bearing

When Grace and Stu were appointed to Rolleston in 2019, God gave them the words ‘sanctuary’ and ‘restoration’ to meditate on. Matthew 11:28–30 also drew their attention: ‘…come to me all who are weary and burdened, and you will find rest’ (abridged).

‘These key words have become the kaupapa (purpose) for Generation House and what defines The Salvation Army during this season,’ says Grace. ‘The idea is that no matter what we are doing or who we are interacting with, we want people to be certain they are safe. Come here and you are safe, full-stop. That’s our goal first and foremost,’ adds Stu. ‘You may be in the middle of a crisis, but you don’t have to be in crisis here—here you are safe. We can help bear the weight.’

While many residents made the initial move to Rolleston because of its affordable new housing, many have large mortgages and little disposable income.

‘Some people come to us for food because that is what The Salvation Army is known for, and that’s the easy part. We have a choice-model foodbank, so if you need food, it’s yours. But the greater need is often to find someone who’ll listen. Creating that space of sanctuary quickly became increasingly important for us.’

Both Grace and Stu have had experiences where people came to talk with them because they didn’t know where else to turn. ‘People have felt safe enough to reveal things about themselves that they haven’t told any other religious figure because they have been afraid of a response of rejection,’ says Grace. ‘In several of those cases, people have physically hidden behind things while telling me, which is a very visible expression of extreme discomfort. But it’s such an honour and a privilege to hold that space for them to be their true and honest selves and assure them that there’s no change in how accepted they are because of what they have just shared. “You are just as accepted now as you were before you told me that.” There’s freedom and a sense of weight being lifted from people, which is powerful to be part of,’ says Grace.

Stu observes, ‘Sometimes we try to do the work of restoration without first establishing this safe place of sanctuary. How can you heal from something you are still in the middle of? People need to feel safe before they can move on to the harder part of the conversation. If we can’t nail the feeling safe part, then we are unlikely to get to restoration. We’ve spent quite a bit of time celebrating when people have felt safe enough to tell us they’re in an abusive relationship, for example. That’s a win for us.’

Next steps

Staff and volunteers at Rolleston attend trauma-informed workshops as part of their training. ‘If people come asking us for help, it’s probably the worst day ever for them, and they have already done a lot of hard work to get this far. Honouring that effort is so important,’ says Grace. ‘So we say, “breathe, pause”. And offer the gifts of time and agency and trust and respect—and, of course, coffee.’

Alongside the foodbank is the Hamodava Café. ‘Part of the idea behind the café was just giving people yet another reason to check us out. It might be scary going to the foodbank,’ explains Grace, ‘but not too scary to get a coffee and sort of test out the vibes.’

Generation House is an intentionally shared community space, where referrals between support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and Perinatal Support Canterbury are reciprocal with the foodbank and chaplaincy. There is a small local group of adults with autism who meet in the space and independent counsellors are also on site most days. ‘We don’t have to own something for it to be good ministry, good for the community and good for God. This space is a gift, so we make the spaces available,’ explains Grace.

Sunday sanctuary

‘Different people connect with God in different ways,’ says Stu. With a desire to honour that fact, Grace and Stu wanted to try and curate a Sunday rhythm that maximised people’s ability to connect with God, rather than a one-dimensional expression of church. Taking into consideration different learning styles and spiritual pathways, as well as acknowledging people’s work schedules, sporting commitments, family priorities and the reality that not everyone comes to church every week, the team are experimenting with a monthly ‘rhythm of worship’.

The first week is Pancake Sunday with the emphasis on community connection and conversation. The second Sunday is Café Church and, following some input and guiding questions, group discussion is the order of the day. ‘God has a message that can be revealed through lots of people, not just the person up the front,’ explains Stu. Week three is Deep Dive and is more academic, like a theological lecture. ‘It’s the strangest thing because it breaks all the rules of what people tell you about how you should do church,’ says Stu. ‘It’s usually a 45-minute message from Grace, but it’s what people have asked for—just not every week!’ The month wraps up with Musical Worship and is exactly as it sounds—it may include a short message but worship and reflection are the focus. If there is a fifth Sunday in the month, everyone goes to kids’ church!

‘No church has ever started out thinking that we want people to be uncomfortable here—it’s just not true about any church. But sometimes church misses the mark for people, and so we come back and review why we do things,’ says Stu. ‘And even if we have closely and carefully examined why we are going to do something, if people tell us what they are experiencing isn’t meeting our stated purpose once it’s established, then we are going to change that,’ adds Grace.

Reels of joy

Grace and Stu recently added ‘joy’ to the Rolleston kaupapa. ‘We’re still all about sanctuary and restoration, but we also have a lot of fun! Joy is also something we are chasing,’ says Stu.

Like everything they do, Grace and Stu are intentional about their online presence, and there’s plenty of joy evident in Rolleston’s online messaging. ‘We do a lot of fun reels on Instagram,’ explains Grace. ‘We recognise that social media is a space where we can reach a lot of people and just plant the idea that The Salvation Army is made up of real humans who have fun and can laugh with each other—a place where people can connect. It’s less scary to walk in the door and ask for help or come to church when people have seen our faces.’

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