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Thames Baptist Church pastor Chris Lee and Living Well Trust manager Caroline Talbot say the 305 is much-need among many members of the community. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Baptist church not ‘enabling’ but ‘transforming’

A woman shuffles past carrying a box of food. Two more are at a table, their focused eyes fixated on a half-completed puzzle. Sitting at the far wall, watching on, is a man.
He says he’s getting baptised on Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to it. Very much so. I’m not nervous,” he says.
He’s even had a shave for the occasion, and it was the baptist church in Thames that gifted him with the gear.
It’s at the baptist church where his immersion will take place.
“Don’t blame the blue,” pastor Chris Lee says, referring to the baptism pool hidden underneath the floor of the 154-year-old church. “I chose it.”
The baptismal font is rather striking, and even has the luxury of being warmer than the Tararu Creek this time of year. Annually, it’s used at least four times for baptisms and the most recent people taking the plunge have come through the church’s ‘305’ service.
“We had a guy who was so keen to be baptised, he jumped in,” Chris says. “Didn’t even use the stairs.”
The man awaiting his baptism, who The Profile has agreed not to name, has been using the church’s 305 facilities – such as its free breakfast and food parcels – for around two-and-a-half years. It’s known by the three numbers for its location along Mary St, and it averages more than 300 visits a month.
The man says he feels safe at the church.
“[Baptism] is not a prerequisite,” Chris explains, “but they grow in their faith and baptism is part of that growth.”

Lynley Gray, Tammy Colquhoun, Caroline Talbot, and Chris Cheetham help out creating food parcels for those in need. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

The community ministries arm of the church, under the banner of Living Well Trust, tries to meet the needs of the poor in Thames.
The manager of the trust, Caroline Talbot, oversees the food parcel and Tasty Tuesday meal services and says need comes in all shapes and sizes.
When The Profile visits the church on a Wednesday morning, there are not only people eating the free cornflakes for breakfast, but behind the scenes there are volunteers, busily packing food parcels.
From the laden shelves they grab canned goods, cleaning products, pantry staples, and even treats like chewing gum. Before being presented to a person in need, the boxes are topped up with meat and dairy, and any additional items such as toiletries, nappies, and gluten free food.
Chris Cheetham, Lynley Gray, and Tammy Colquhoun all started volunteering for the trust around June, realising they had spare time on their hands and that the spare time could be used to help others.
“My little one is going to kindy now and I needed something to do to occupy myself,” Tammy explains, “and what better way than to help those less fortunate?
“Karma is always classed as a negative thing but it is positive as well. Giving back… I believe it comes back in other ways.”
In March of this year, the baptist church handed out 50 food parcels that fed 175 people (87 adults and 88 children). Their once-a-week hot meal, Tasty Tuesday, had 71 attendees over three weeks.
The numbers were similar in April: 41 food parcels and 68 attendees for Tasty Tuesday.
Amanda Goldfinch works at the front of the church handing out food parcels. She has also been volunteering for Tasty Tuesday for nine years, choosing what meals to cook and gathering the ingredients.
She says the service is much appreciated by those who use it.
“They’re overwhelmed and very thankful, and for Tasty Tuesday, to know that they are enjoying the food and that they are at least having a healthy meal once a week… I don’t feel like it’s ‘me’ and ‘them’ – it’s a community.”

For the month of March, 395 people utilised the open door policy of Thames Baptist Church. Photo: GORDON PREECE

For the month of March, 395 people utilised the open door policy of the baptist church, but The Profile earlier reported that their presence was causing unease among workers in the CBD.
Due to the location of the 305, concerns were raised on social media about the “aggression and intimidation” spilling out of the church and into public areas such as Pollen St, the former Vibe, and Goldfields Shopping Centre. The church was also accused of “enabling” anti-social behaviours.
But not all of those who use the 305 services are homeless, Chris and Caroline say, but all are in need of food and a safe place to be.
“We’re open for four hours, four days a week,” Chris says. “Are we enabling them?
“I don’t question why people need food parcels, or why they need breakfast. We’re not enabling them, but it irks me that people think that.”
Another challenge for the church is funding, Chris says, and he explains that available funding is back to a “pre-Covid level”, while services and need remains at a “post-Covid level”.
The church applies for funding from government and non-government agencies, as well as philanthropists, but largely relies on donations.
Winding back to the front of the church, moving past a knitting and craft circle where yarn lies at feet and a dog cuddles within a sweatshirt and there is a strict “women only” rule imposed, Chris and Caroline encourage anyone of any need to “come and see what we do”.
“I just get a kick out of people being transformed, even if they never step into the church. It doesn’t matter their background or status,” Chris says. “It’s just very rewarding.”
DETAILS: The food bank is open Monday to Thursday, 9am-11.30am. For information about other church services and the Living Well Trust, find Thames Baptist Church on Facebook.