Living Grace

Adventurous in Restoration: Living Grace At The Frontlines Of Crisis And Change 

23 May 2024

By Amy Galliford

“Not only did you repair my roof, but you restored my faith at the same time.”

For Living Grace Church (formerly Tweed Church of Christ), the call to partner with God’s restoration in this world has taken them far beyond their comfort zones into the thick of crisis and change.

“The first responders are often the church!” says John Latta, Senior Pastor at Living Grace Church and Disaster Recovery Chaplain Coordinator for Lismore Business District.

Between droughts, fires, floods and plagues, Tweed Heads has copped more than its fair share of crisis in the last seven years. Throughout these crises, the people of Living Grace Church of Christ have been among those first on the scene, providing meals, clothes, prayers and manpower to the disaster relief efforts.

“The community needs someone to just take initiative,” says John.

In 2017, this willingness to take initiative placed Living Grace at the centre of disaster response. When record-breaking rain over a weekend guaranteed a flood was coming, John began spreading the word on social media that they would set up flood recovery in the sports centre owned by the church. The phone rang shortly after, and an ABC reporter on the other end inquired about the flood response. At the end of the call, the reporter mentioned they were live on national radio, and John knew there was no turning back.

The sports centre began filling with donations, and volunteers emerged from everywhere. John and his team organised them into a ‘Mud Army’, assigning them jobs in the community. Their practical kindness left a deep impression on the community, with one woman telling John, “Not only did you repair my roof, but you restored my faith at the same time.”

When the immediate crisis was alleviated, the church stuck around, rebuilding the community for months afterwards. At a celebration night they hosted six months after the floods, one man approached him simply to say,

“I expected you guys to last a day, but you stayed all week and beyond. And you’re still here six months on looking after us.”

This response set the pattern for the community’s disaster relief. Two years later, when the drought hit, Living Grace provided the farmers with meals, pastoral care and support. When this drought was followed by the worst bushfires in Australia’s history, they led the effort in responding, again filling the sports centre with donations, organising volunteers and distributing resources to the community. Help came from everywhere, one man showing up with his forklift to load donations onto three large semi-trailers which then took supplies of donations to Ulladulla and Batemans Bay.

Living Grace’s philosophy is simple.

“It’s just about looking at what is happening in community and being creative about how we can best be a presence in that space,” John explains.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works, forcing Living Grace to shut down some of their core operations, but they persisted in serving their community, even meeting people outside at the border simply to talk.

When the 2022 floods hit, the church’s own sports centre in Chinderah flooded and couldn’t be used as a relief centre. This setback became an opportunity for the church to join collaborative local efforts to support the community.  Church member and former churches of Christ in NSW & ACT Pioneering leader, Jessie Skelly, approached the Seventh Day Adventist church nearby about becoming a hub for volunteers. Just two days after the floods hit, this partnership became known as “Homegrown Collective”, as other churches and community members joined the effort. Abigail Skelly, Jessie’s wife, also played a key role in coordinating this effort. She reflected on the success of this experience,

“Over the course of two weeks we saw 5 local churches and over a thousand people from the local community come together. People offered their time, trades and cleaning services to numerous affected local homes, schools and business that needed help in flood recovery and clean up all across the Northern Rivers and Byron shire.”

When it’s business as usual in their area, the heartbeat of Living Grace remains to actively respond to the ever-evolving needs of their community. As John puts it, “Community and culture are changing all the time – we always need to be innovative in connecting with them.”

Living Grace partners with organisations that serve the homeless and ministries in prisons and local brothels, inviting those on the margins to their own table. John opens their services to a wide range of voices, prioritising the voice of indigenous members of their congregation and inviting other ministries from their wider area to cross-pollinate by sharing their experiences with the church. John says, “People get stuck in their old patterns. Church just becomes a Sunday outing. We are trying to be a voice of love and support for our community.”

Living Grace also values being an inclusive congregation to all with a deep connection to First Nation families in particular, intentionally making room for them to express their culture through music, dance, and story within the community.

“First Nations families teach us a lot. We are listening. That’s what is needed more than anything – we need to hear their story.”

Our Ethos at Work:

This story is an example of one of the seven facets of the ethos of our network of churches: Adventurous in Restoration. Living Grace Church, while only one example among many in our network, reminds us that God’s Spirit is drawing His people to champion this value for His Church today.

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