In the rural city of Maryborough in Queensland, Australia, The Chatterbox has been serving their community for over five years. Started by the Richmond Street Community Church of the Nazarene this ministry has been engaging with its community since March 26, 2015.
The Chatterbox offers a welcoming place for all to relax with free tea, coffee, cakes, and other sweet treats, all with the goal of creating both time and space to develop authentic community, The Chatterbox has opened for two and a half hours every Thursday morning on Market Days (except during the Christmas School vacation) as a volunteer service to their local community of 27,000 people. This ministry serves as a regular gathering place for people with various disabilities, young mothers and their children, older men separated from their families, the homeless, and others.
The Chatterbox began at a challenging time for the Richmond Street church, which was planted in 1999. By 2013, the church was without a pastor, and only a few members remained. Cameron Batkin, NYI Coordinator for the Australia-New Zealand Field and Pastor of the Richmond Street Community church shared recently: “It was after a very discouraging season at Richmond Street with lots of things happening that I preached ‘You are the light of the world’ [Matthew 5:14-16]…I asked the question that if we closed the doors and just walked away would anyone ever know that we existed as a church. That sent Naree Horne, one of our board members, into a season of prayer. About three months after at a board meeting around the kitchen table, Naree shared a vision for what was to become Chatterbox.” Batkin continues, “We were fortunate to have a mostly empty space, and Naree thought that she would have an electric kettle and some cake bought from a local supermarket and get to know those that dropped in.”
The church was inspired by her vision and desire to connect with the local community. Pastor Cameron, then church secretary and a lay leader, remembers: “We only ever expected it to be a small thing with maybe 3-4 people a morning turning up…We opened on 26 March 2015 and within a month or so we were reaching between 40 and 80 people a week.”
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Over the years, The Chatterbox has received several community awards and has been featured in the local newspaper. Additionally, the Queensland state government assisted with some funding that allowed the church to install a kitchen and running water.
Reflecting on the highlights of The Chatterbox, Pastor Cameron shared: “The highlight for me is all the people we have gotten to know and engage with over the years and journey with…They all feel welcomed if they are new to town or have been coming since the first week.”
Shortly after celebrating its fifth anniversary of ministry, the COVID-19 global pandemic forced The Chatterbox into temporary hiatus. Pastor Cameron highlighted the challenge this pandemic has posed to them and their community: “We can’t meet because of the current restrictions so we make sure we stop and greet them when we see our Chatterbox family when we are out and about.” Another need is for more volunteers: “Having enough volunteers is probably the greatest need. We can operate with two people but the more volunteers we have allows us to actually connect with people.”
But in spite of the challenges, the Chatterbox team projects optimism about what God is doing. As Pastor Cameron shares, “Every week is different. One of the cool things is that God has always provided. We have a few choices every week but sometimes just before we open or just after someone will just randomly bring in a freshly baked cake or something to share. We have never run out of food even when we think it will be tight. We always have enough.” He continues, “The greatest challenge for us is that we stay in God’s hands and are faithful to the call to serve our community.”