NEWS | Kaley Payne
Friday 4 March 2016
As thousands of people dance past St Michael’s Anglican Church in Surry Hills this Saturday night during the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a group of volunteers will be ready to welcome revellers looking for rest and refreshment.
They’re not there to be combative. They’re not there to offer judgment. Rather, says Joel Hollier, who is leading the group, they are there to be “visible” as people who want to show the “radical love of Jesus” as Christians at an unlikely event.
“We believe that God can use the most unlikely events to bring people into his kingdom,” Joel told Eternity.
Joel’s team have set up a space outside the church building where they hope people can encounter more than just free food. They’re seeking to challenge expectations in a political climate that suggests all Christians are bigots and the stereotypical expectation would be more for Christian picketers than Christians offering a free meal.
“The plausibility of Christianity in our society at this particular point in history seems very low. There are a number of Christian beliefs which sound absolutely ludicrous to the average Australian, making sharing the gospel particularly difficult in the 21st century. One of those beliefs is what we believe about sexuality,” says Joel.
“Making things even more difficult is the vitriolic culture war surrounding issues such as same-sex marriage.”
St Michael’s Anglican Church has recently joined with local church plant Vine Church and come under the leadership of lead pastor Toby Neal. The volunteer group for Saturday’s Mardi Gras outreach event is new, too – including Joel – though the concept of offering a place of refreshment during Mardi Gras has been something St Michael’s has done for many years now.
Despite a new team, the vision for the event remains the same: to bridge the divide.
“More and more we’re seeing young and successful inner city residents, who have no need for ‘faith as a crutch’, come to church because they’re intrigued by the person of Jesus. We’ve even seen this come about as a result of our involvement at Mardi Gras in previous years,” says Joel.
“We’re not protesting the Mardi Gras ‘soap box’ style, nor are we promoting its values. What we’re seeking to provide is a place for conversation … Our location provides an amazing position to create a meeting place for two parties who have historically done conversation quite poorly.”