“Too often the church waits for the community to come to us,” says the coordinator for Kids Friendly, a nationwide initiative of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Lorraine Morgan made the comment following her church's second successful annual Fathers/Family Fun Day in the Park last Sunday.
“We run outreach programmes for children and become disillusioned when they don't come to church on Sundays," said Ms Morgan.
The Father's Day event was the brainchild of Ms Morgan who is also the children's and families' coordinator at St Andrews Presbyterian in Geraldine.
The event was supported by St Andrews minister Ian Hyslop and church members who worked together to host the day, offering free bouncy castles, motorbike and vintage car rides, cooking sausages and doing face and hair painting.
Ms Morgan began thinking about organising a fun event for the community on a Sunday, having received much positive feedback from the school holiday programmes she had been running for five years.
“I was concerned that the church often has wonderful ministries within the church and runs a few social services for the community. But people are often not prepared to give up the way they do church to mix with the community.
“Are we being salt and light, in our community?” she asked.
So on Father's Day, 2008, St Andrews cancelled their regular church service and held their first free event in a local park, receiving such a positive response from the community they decided to make it an annual event.
This year St Andrews once again cancelled church and ran the Fathers/Family Fun Day in the Park.
“We debated whether or not to include a religious component,” says Ms Morgan “but decided that being salt and light was the greatest way to share our faith on the day. We didn't preach or give out tracts - the message was that we're here to get to know and serve our community. It is our gift to the community we live in and care for."
Last year a solo mum said with tears in her eyes, “I can't thank you enough. I'm trying to be mum and a dad to my girls and this is just an amazing day, and free."
Another mother said it was great to come to an event where the church was not ramming its beliefs down their throat. “We've had continuing contact with that mum,” says Ms Morgan “and we're building a relationship with her.”
A community member wrote a letter to the local paper congratulating the church.
One local company lent an Argo for river rides, another a curtain-sider truck to provide a stage for the band and dancers, and others donated or gave food at cost price.
Church members of all ages (including over 80-year-olds) made more than 200 gingerbread men which event-goers decorated with icing and M&Ms to make a 'gingerbread tent.'
Music was provided by a Christian band called Restoration and community members.
“We made it clear it was a day for the whole family not just for fathers and children,” says Ms Morgan who enjoyed seeing single mums and dads bring their children along.
Ms Morgan works 20 hours a week for St Andrews and 20 hours a week for Kids Friendly and is responsible for Transformers, a kid's friendly initiative, which helps churches encourage leadership in young people through regional training events and a website for resource sharing.
Married to Rhys, she has two children Sam (16) and Anna (14) and has been in children's ministry for more than 20 years in Baptist Churches in Palmerston North, Albany and Geraldine.