Benita Clark sat down with Mathew Kuruvilla from Parkside Church in Sydney’s South West.
Following Christ is not to be limited by cultural barriers. Christianity is such that it crosses any and all cultural barriers, so the word of God can be shared amongst the nations. As you enter into Parkside Baptist Church, you witness the vision of this displayed in a church building. Parkside Church consists of people from many different cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds who are united as one big family in Jesus Christ. There are people from more than 50 different ethnic backgrounds represented at Parkside, with Anglo-Celtic Australians, Indians and Asians the largest ethnicities represented.
The vision of the Parkside church community is to fulfil God’s mission for His church; to be known as “A House of Prayer for all Nations ” (Isaiah 56:7). Parkside shows its cultural diversity by prominently displaying flags around the auditorium from all the nations represented. No matter where you are from, here or abroad, there is a sense of home at Parkside Baptist Church.
The community of Parkside Baptist Church is located in Edensor Park. The church is situated next door to a Buddhist temple and behind is an Islamic mosque, reflecting the diverse demographic make-up of today’s Australian society and the local community. Within the Edensor Park local community there are more than 190 different ethnic backgrounds represented. With many different cultures on the Parkside Baptist doorstep, there is a call to local mission that caters for everyone, whilst being sensitive to the cultural needs of those in the community. The cornerstone of Parkside is its vision to be a rainbow of God’s people bringing His love and reconciliation to multicultural Australia. The Vision is to become a Church for all Australians regardless of their ethnic origin or background. For visitors and members of Parkside Baptist the inclusive nature of the gospel shines through. Everyone is welcomed and valued as members of God’s family, irrespective of their ethnic or cultural backgrounds.
Mathew Kuruvilla, the Senior Pastor, has been serving at Parkside Baptist church for the past 26 years. His wife, Savi, is actively involved in pastoral care for women and over the years their son, Jason, and daughter, Sherina, have served in different ministries within the church community. Mathew is passionate in promoting the vision of the church and making Parkside a home to people from many nations, which will transform them for eternity and grow the kingdom of God. Mathew says that his passion for ministry is “to see people from every ethnic background in our community come to know the Lord and worship together as one big family of God’s people in a multi-ethnic church that reflects God’s mission and purpose. I see this as being obedient to God’s Word to fulfil the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.”
Mathew felt called to Parkside Baptist Church through his passion for ministry, as well as many years of experiencing different cultures around the world. Mathew reflects on how he came to be at Parkside Baptist Church “I was convinced that the multi-ethnic church is God’s idea and it is firmly rooted in God’s word. Prior to becoming a pastor, my Christian ministry had taken me to many parts of the world, sharing the gospel with people of many nationalities and cultures. This strong conviction from God’s word and my own ministry experience has led me in my ministry at Parkside.“ Mathew serves at Parkside Baptist in a team with two other pastors and two pastoral care workers, as well as many volunteers who run different ministries.
Looking at the vision Parkside holds to for the church in regards to a multi-ethnic focus, Mathew shares his favourite Bible verse “It’s Revelation 7:9 ‘After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. This is the picture of the ultimate multi-ethnic church that God is building. If we are going to be part of that church in heaven then our local churches should reflect God’s church. God’s purpose for the church is that ‘His Church will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ (Isaiah 56:7)” This glimpse of heaven is possible to achieve on earth. It may be out of our comfort zones, but when we reach crossculturally into our ever changing communities, we are building the church that God desires.
For those who have a heart for multi-ethic churches, how can you get yourself involved in sharing the vision that Parkside has? It is important to recognise that a multiethnic church does not just happen, it is the result of a prayer covering and an earnest seeking of God, as well as taking very intentional steps within the community they are located. Mathew explains some of the intentional steps he has taken “This includes making visitors feel welcome and accepted. Empowering ethnically diverse leadership, from pulpit to the kindergarten, was key to building multicultural principles into the DNA of the church. When people in the pew see ethnic diversity in all areas of leadership, it immediately creates an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion.“
In having an inclusive church, how does Parkside cater to the needs of so many cultures? “All our ministries and activities are intentionally multi-ethnic so everyone feels included. Our church café, “Harmony Café”, prepares food by different ethnic groups each Sunday. This gives everyone the opportunity to taste and enjoy the food from different countries,” Mathew says. Celebrating different ethnic groups makes each group feel valued and included, as well as sharing food from all around the world for people to enjoy.
Parkside Baptist has a positive standing within the local community with many outreach activities happening on a weekly basis, as well as larger targeted outreach events. Outside of the Sunday Services, Parkside runs youth group, Playtime, kids ministry, men and women groups, senior adults group, family ministry, singles ministry, young adults ministry, counselling services, home groups, Celebrate Recovery, Just Care Community Services, as well as School and Hospital chaplain ministry on a regular basis. As for the larger outreach activities, Mathew shares some of the ideas Parkside has found to be successful in their context. “We run a number of big outreach activities during the year. Our International Night is our signature event and attracts a large crowd. The International Night” includes food from different countries, various cultural programs, a parade of nations and a well-known guest speaker. In the past we had speakers such as, Philip Ruddock, Tim Costello, Andrew Scipione, Mike Frost, Ray Martin, Jason Smith, and Ken Duncan. For those who are sporty and a little on the competitive side, Parkside runs a basketball and skate competition in the local area, which is advertised throughout the community. Our “Just Care” trailer, equipped with BBQ, visits a number of local parks and sporting events giving away free BBQ meals. In the Christmas season we do gift wrapping at the local shopping centre, and we run Carols in the Park with the support of the local Council.” It is encouraging to see Parkside catering for many people in the community and sharing the word of God and life of Jesus practically and verbally.
Mathew has advice for those people reading Together who want to reach into their community cross-culturally. “I believe it is extremely important to start by getting to know your community and being open to welcome strangers into your church. Encourage every person in your congregation to be friendly and extend hospitality to people from other ethnic backgrounds. Also, try to intentionally create opportunities to interact with people from other cultures. This can be achieved through International celebrations, sports activities, cultural nights and the like.”
If you are in the Edensor Park area, make the time to visit Parkside Baptist Church. It is welcoming and accepting of all who walk through the doors of the church building. Mathew finishes with this prayerful hope for the church, which all churches can commit to “We are a growing Church with a big vision that is seriously committed to building people for eternity.”