Debbie Spackman, Pastor at Te Atatῡ Baptist Church, shares with us the realised gospel renewal potential of an empty car park. 

I want to tell you about our car park at Te Atatῡ Baptist. For many years it frustrated me how our car park would sit empty most of the week. We, of course, use it on Sunday and the Tongan church that uses our building does as well.  

A few years ago, some parents would park their cars here in the morning while dropping their tamariki at the local school, about 200 meters away. We rang the school and told them we were happy for them to let the other parents know they could park here as well. Nothing changed, but as parking became a big issue on the street, Auckland Transport got involved. Now, it is an official place for parents to park before and after school. The school has a walking bus to bring the tamariki to the church to meet the parents after school. This arrangement means we have over 100 cars using our car park for the school daily.

We have put a pātaka kai on our berm, which is well-used by our community. People leave what they can and take what they need. This also brings many people into our car park every day as they get food to feed their families.

Before the arrival of COVID-19, we began interacting with and working with the local Marae Committee. They are waiting on the council to give them the land they were promised for a marae. They said they would like to plant a māra kai out the back of our church and planted about 20 square metres. A few months later, they asked if they could use the space in front of the planted garden. Of course, we said “yes”. Once Covid arrived, and food insecurity in our community became so huge, they asked if we had any other space. I said, “Use the car park”. We now have well over 150 square metres of māra kai that helps feed our community.

During Covid, we worked with the local Marae Committee and Te Whānau o Waipareira to do a drive-thru vaccine drive. We called it ‘Get a shot, grab a hangi’. This all happened in the car park, including preparing and putting down a hangi after digging up some of the car park for the hangi pit. We made hangi to give to everyone who got vaccinated.

Sometimes the film production companies use our car park for their support vehicles, food station and dressing rooms while they film nearby.

About two months ago, my son and I got coffee from the local drive-thru coffee cart. They had a sign saying they had to move and to let them know if anyone knew where they could go. We looked at each other and said they could come to our car park. They are now parked in the corner by my office. They are open seven days a week from 7 am-12 pm. There are often 6-8 cars in the queue, particularly early in the morning when people are heading to work or using the car park to drop the tamariki off at school. The exciting thing was seeing their Facebook post on our local page. People thought that Te Atatῡ Baptist was amazing for having them. 

Recently, the circus arrived on the Peninsula. They messaged me to ask if they could park some of their accommodation caravans in our car park, just as they have done in the past. So they arrived and are now parked in our gardens. They gave us some complimentary tickets that I will be able to give to a low-income family on the very outskirts of our church Whānau.

We have a couple of picnic tables in the car park that the local rangatahi sit at while they wait for a ride home or to hang out after school. 

We also share our buildings with other charities for free. The Foundry (West Auckland Vineyard Church) uses one of our old pre-fabs for their second-hand clothing shop. They give away more clothing than they sell which fits perfectly with our kaupapa of caring for our community, particularly the poor. They also organise their food bank each Wednesday in our car park, packing food from Auckland City Mission into boxes to deliver to families who face food insecurity.

The korero I get to have with people every day is fantastic. This morning as I was talking with Hone while he planted some mandarin trees in some pots at the front entrance (again to feed our community). Jenny, who is new to the community, was clearing some boxes from the pātaka kai. She came to see what we were planting and joined our korero. Hone eventually told her that I was the Pastor here, and she said, “Oh good, I was going to come to church this Sunday.”

I chatted with a lady in the queue for coffee, and she asked about the gardens and if people could help themselves. She has a neighbour who has a large family and is struggling financially. I told her to help herself and tell her neighbour they could too. I also told her that if her neighbour came on a Wednesday around lunchtime, she would be able to get some clothes for her tamariki.

Yesterday one of the men from our church was chatting by the māra kai to one of the circus men and teaching him some te reo Māori. He will use one of our rooms to teach te reo to beginners. 

At the beginning of November, we will sell fireworks from our car park for the first time.

Our car park is now busier than our buildings! There is no way of measuring how effective all of this is. Still, I truly believe we are using our car park to support God in building his kingdom here on Te Atatῡ Peninsula.

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