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Conversation café warms St Ann's community

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Weekday Mass followed by a cuppa and a good old natter is providing the perfect way for parishioners at Seacombe Gardens to provide a warm sense of welcome and outreach to all members of the community.

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‘Conversation Café’ at Holy Spirit Church in St Ann’s Parish is run by a small team of helpers led by Fran Stanley, who set it up last year as a way to support those “living on the edge”.

Each week a long table in the hall is set beautifully, providing a sense of welcome to those who come and showing them that they ‘matter, absolutely’, in line with the Gospel Pathways for a renewing parish.

While a few members from the local community who are experiencing hardship have joined the group on occasions, Fran said what had evolved over the past 18 months is a cafe where people catch up after the 9.30am Mass each Tuesday to share morning tea and have a chat.

“I live by the line, ‘act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God’ and I wanted to provide a space for people to gather with no judgement,” she told The Southern Cross, while pouring cups of tea and coffee.

“The degree of loneliness and isolation in society is acute so really my philosophy was to help people to engage.”

A retired school teacher and chaplain, Scottish-born Fran said while she would say “g’day” to people after Mass it was often just “superficial”. Now she is finding that by running the café she is getting to know people better.

“Personally, I wanted to get to know people here at a deeper level. It’s a way to engage with members of the parish community, some who I didn’t know that well.”

While no payment is needed to partake in the delicious homemade scones and slices baked by Fran, most attendees generously give a donation to cover the cost of ingredients. Any extra money received is donated to the local Vinnies conference.

“In the first six months that was $200 and for this year we are likely to make a $450 donation,” Fran said.

Administrator delegate Fr Philip Marshall and Teresa Lynch from the Office for Renewing Parishes attended the café on October 29 as part of the week-long visitation to St Ann’s parish.

They enjoyed chatting with the locals, including long-time parishioner Peter Collyer who often attends.

“The café has been a real bonus. You have a good yack and it’s a great asset to the parish. A lot of us have known each other for a long time so it’s a chance to talk about our lives; it’s a connection,” he said.

Parish priest Fr John Shanahan described the café as “community building at a grassroots level”.

He said that during the winter months the café offered a lunch instead of morning tea, with the multiculturalism of the parish highlighted when two parishioners prepared dishes from their home countries of Syria and India.

The diversity of cultures within the parish was also featured in many of the activities and meetings held throughout the visitation, which got underway with Masses at Holy Spirit and St Bernadette’s Church, St Marys.

“Through the evolution of the parish to its present configuration, St Ann’s has become a parish which has a strong heart for justice and has been prepared to be innovative, creative and encouraging of lay leadership,” Fr Marshall said.

Members of the Diocesan team were pleased to hear from the younger members of the community during visits to the parish schools, Stella Maris and St Bernadette’s, and when Mass was celebrated with international students studying at nearby Flinders University.

A parish celebration at Sacred Heart College’s Champagnat campus concluded the week and provided an opportunity for anyone to raise their voice through a comment or question during an open mic session.

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