Greg Knowles is the Communications Manager at Visionwest Community Trust and a member of Glen Eden Baptist Church.

While the exact number may not be known, it is certain that many Baptist churches throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand have a charitable trust as part of their outreach. A challenge for many of these trusts is navigating to the next phase of growth as they seek to utilise the trust to touch lives and impact their communities. That’s what the Community Impact Day – run as a precursor to the 2023 Baptist Hui – was all about.

Around 50 Hui delegates attended the day, held at Glen Eden Baptist Church (GEBC) and hosted by Visionwest Community Trust. GEBC established the trust as a way to reach their community. Over 30 years later, the trust has grown significantly and remains very much aligned with the church in their united vision to see Transformed Lives, Healthy Communities throughout West Auckland.

Charles Hewlett, National Baptist Leader, and Michael Rhodes, Carey Baptist College Lecturer in Old Testament, presented the Community Impact Day’s keynote addresses. Charles being generously honest in sharing of a time when he and his whānau needed help from a church-based community trust and the positive impact that had on their lives; while Michael spoke of the Bible’s injunction to show justice and mercy to the poor with a reminder of how that challenge must steer churches today.

Sessions held throughout the day were led by Visionwest and GEBC kaimahi with the focus including Visionwest’s church and trust journey, Visionwest’s Te Tiriti journey, how to use a trust to provide food support to a community (including a tour of Manaaki Kai, Visionwest’s social supermarket), how to use a community trust to address Aotearoa’s need for social housing, and the role of a church trust in community development.

A significant learning of the day’s korero was the need for a church and trust to work together to achieve their shared aims and many questions were asked about how this dynamic is maintained. Gary Grut, GEBC Lead Pastor, and Lisa Woolley, Visionwest CEO, agreed that maintaining this alignment requires active effort on behalf of both church and trust boards but that ultimately it comes down to good communication and the regular reaffirmation of a joint vision.

While the takeaways from the Community Impact Day were many, and varied from person to person, a couple of aspects stood out. The first is the understanding that all church trusts start small, but size does not need to hamper their effectiveness and, with tenacity and resilience, coupled with the need to take the occasional calculated risk, growth will occur, and goals will be met.

Like every church trust, Visionwest Community Trust began small. It originated as a drop-in centre in the dilapidated Glen Eden railway station building. Throughout the trust’s history, it has grown as trustees and church members saw needs within their community and responded positively to the associated “what if?” questions. Today Visionwest employs over 1,700 people and provides a suite of wraparound support services including housing, food support, counselling, budgeting and financial mentoring, youth development for employment, in-home healthcare, and early childhood education. Offices are situated in Auckland West, Auckland North, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, and Christchurch.

A second takeaway is the need to take seriously Te Tiriti and the challenge to deliver support services in a culturally appropriate way. In recent years, Visionwest has undertaken a proactive Kaupapa Māori journey, in part to honour the tāngata whenua but also to provide appropriate service processes. This is vitally important in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, where Māori and Pasifika are disproportionately represented in those seeking social support. Visionwest has also recently appointed a Head of Pasifika Development alongside our head of Māori Development.

Community Impact Day delegates appreciated the willingness of Visionwest, GEBC and other speakers to share their journeys in a way that provides enthusiasm to even the newest church trust and shows what determination coupled with focused mission can achieve.

Photos supplied by Greg Knowles

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