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Cuppa and faith go hand in hand

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Bianca Cotton often wonders what may have happened in her life if she hadn’t accepted an invitation for a “cuppa and chat” with parishioners at Aberfoyle Park.

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Newly-married and having just moved to Chandlers Hill, she decided the time was right to stop travelling to Glenelg to attend Mass and give the Church of the Nativity a go.

“My first thoughts were that this was a really nice community and every weekend I could see them having a cuppa afterwards and I wondered how can I get into that group? What do I have to sign? What do I have to pay?

“One day someone approached me and asked if I wanted to stay for a cuppa and chat and I asked what I had to do – and they said just come and have a cuppa!

“For me that was a huge turning point. It was from there that I started to build connections with other people in the parish and form friendships.”

More than a decade later, Bianca now serves as the pastoral associate and part of her role is welcoming others into the fold.

“I always think back to that time when I was asked to have a cup of tea and what that meant to me. I can now see the importance in myself doing the same thing and how it has formed friendships with other people.

“It’s a simple thing but a good way of people opening up and breaking down the barriers. You have no idea of what is happening in other people’s lives.”

The bubbly mum of four young children (Alannah, 7, Brooke, 6, Chloe 3 and Zac 16 months) said she never realised when she became part of the Aberfoyle Park parish that it would play such an important part in the her life.

Her outgoing personality and affinity with the younger members of the community was quickly identified and she was duly asked to become involved in children’s liturgy and as leader for the youth group.

It was a totally new experience for her. Growing up she had attended Mass in Glenelg in the company of her grandmother, but had never been involved in any other church activities.

Bianca said serving in these ministries was wonderful because it helped her nurture not only the faith of children and youth, but her own faith flourished. A bonus was that she continued to meet more and more people in the Church community.

When Fr Charles Lukati was appointed to Aberfoyle Park in 2013, Bianca was encouraged to apply for the vacant position of pastoral associate. By this time she already had two young children and life was busy at home, however she knew this was her calling.

“I thought this is so far from what I’ve ever done,” she laughed, explaining that her previous work history was in retail and cosmetics.

Together with Fr Charles (and now Fr Santiago Fernandes), Bianca has worked hard to build up connections with young families in the parish.

“I work closely with the school and I love going to the school Masses – it’s a good opportunity to build relationships with the families there and keep the connection between parish and school,” she explained.

Bianca is also involved with the sacrament program, part of the baptism preparation team and co-ordinates ministries. A member of the parish’s renewal team, she is looking at ways of providing more opportunities for adult formation.

“From my personal experience, I have been on retreats and attended different seminars and from doing online subjects for the Ministry Formation Program it is encouraging how much I’ve grown in my faith through those opportunities. If anyone else can experience that, it can only be better for their own relationship with God,” she said.

But with just 14 hours a week to get things done, it’s a matter of prioritising and being patient.

“I thrive on challenges,” she said. “Any time I go to a workshop I get so energised by that and am in a hurry to implement it in the parish. Sometimes it takes a bit more time than you had hoped!”

Looking back on what has happened in her life since she accepted that “cuppa”, Bianca said she feels truly blessed.

Her grandmother, now 96, has been able to witness her faith journey and that of her young family – and is extremely proud that her granddaughter works for the Church.

Her parents have also returned to the Church and to add to her happiness, her husband Paul converted to Catholicism this Easter.

And then, of course, there is her “extended family”.

“I’ve grown so close to some people in the parish that they feel like my family. I see them so often and spend so much time with them that I get a real sense of joy in sharing the Eucharist with them.

“I’m so blessed to have them in my life and being able to offer that to my children is wonderful. We need this in today’s world, we need people to support one another.”

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