The flood changed everything for our neighbouring church
It’s affectionately called 'The Church on the Corner”...
"I keep saying to people in church: it's great you’re here, but our job is to be ‘out there’, not ‘in here’" – Rev Dave
Words: Nikki Peck Published: 31 August 2023
Just a five-minute drive from Riverlife, you’ll find a small brick building in the heart of Oxley. It’s affectionately called by some as “The Church on the Corner”.
Eighteen months ago, during the flood recovery in February 2022, more than 2,500 people streamed in and out of the building, which is home to Oxley Uniting Church. Many of those people had never set foot in a church before! The church quickly became the heart of the community’s recovery, caring for people who had lost their homes.
Rev Dave Thomas says although he would never wish that time upon anybody, it became a real turning point for the church.
“When I moved to Oxley two and half years ago, the church building was just sitting here. The trees were overgrown, and many people didn’t even know it existed. I remember talking to a man who lived almost a stone’s throw away. He’d been living there for six years and didn’t even know there was a church,” Rev Dave says.
But the flood changed everything.
“It was a Sunday morning, and I remember our local councillor, Sarah Hutton, walked into the church. She runs up the stairs and basically asked if we would open our doors to help people in the immediate area.”
“So, for a bit over two weeks, if you walked into the church, you’d swear it was a supermarket. We had supplies, tables and chairs set up, lots of water, and were making tea/coffee for people. We had Centrelink and counsellors permanently set up.
“We had marquees out the front and coffee vans. People kept coming in, wanting support, wanting help. We couldn’t give everyone everything they needed, but we did what we could. We reckon over 2,500 people walked through those doors during that time.
“It was pandemonium. I remember going home, night after night, not knowing what the next day would bring. They were long days. I was up at 5am – mostly at the church by 6am – and often didn’t get home till late.”
Some locals still aren’t back in their houses, so for Rev Dave, a lot of the support is still ongoing.
“I got to know a lot of people, from all walks of life. Now we have people walking past, and if I’m out the front of the church, they’ll stop me and say hello. To use Cr Sarah Hutton’s words: ‘If you weren’t on the map before the floods, you certainly are now. Everyone knows where Oxley Uniting Church is.’”
Rev Dave’s passion has always been about the church looking beyond its walls.
“My heart has always been community. I keep saying to people in church: it’s great you’re here, but our job is to be ‘out there’, not ‘in here’. I guess my mandate for ministry is: it’s church in community, not church and community. Yes, we have our values, statements and ways – and we know who we are – but that’s all for a purpose of sharing it with people beyond the walls.”
Having previously worked in the financial world for 20 years before becoming a minister, Rev Dave says he’s seen new life begin to show itself at the church in the last eight months.
“In August last year, I had this dream of giving Alpha a go. Oxley Uniting had never done it, and when I first mentioned it, many people in the church had never heard of it. I thought it would be worth challenging the congregation to go beyond themselves.”
“We decided to run it after Easter this year. A week before we were due to start, we only had one guest. I was asking God, “Did I hear you wrong?! Is this going to be a disaster? What’s happening?”
“We decided to go ahead with it anyway. The first night, we had 19 guests, seven of whom were totally unchurched. One woman saw the Alpha sign, had no idea what it was, but still walked into the church on the first Friday night.
“There was another woman who walked in. She’s Korean and before Alpha, her involvement in church had been spasmodic. But now, she’s so hungry to learn. Her long-term hope is to become a pastor and run a Korean church from our church.”
What an amazing story of a church looking beyond itself. We’re cheering you on Oxley Uniting!
Both Riverlife and Oxley Uniting are part of Brisbane City Council’s Local Emergency Network. When a disaster hits our local community, Riverlife is the Community Evacuation Centre and Oxley Uniting is the Community Hub.
What a gift to be able to work alongside another church, loving those outside the walls!