Over the years I have advocated for Christians, when considering where to live within a metropolitan area, to lean, for the sake of the mission, towards places that are poorer or currently less Christian (along with whatever other work, family etc considerations they have). I say this not just for those who will be doing lots of hands-on Christian work but also for the ordinary Christians who will be working, looking after their families and playing their part in a local church.
That is part of why I lived in Cheltenham during 2008-14. After five years back with my family in Payneham, I'm anticipating something of a gap year from paid work, so I'm looking at where to spend this year.
It turns out that these are the ten most disadvantaged suburbs in Adelaide (2016 census, Index of Disadvantage): Elizabeth South1First by a wide margin, Elizabeth South is home to the Holden factory (which has closed since the census)., Elizabeth Grove, Davoren Park, Elizabeth North, Elizabeth Vale, Smithfield Plains, Elizabeth Park, Elizabeth Downs, Elizabeth East and Elizabeth. Combined population of 37,000.
Yes, these ten suburbs forming one contiguous block, each rank as more disadvantaged than any individual suburb in the Salisbury, Parks and Noarlunga areas. So this became my area of interest. I decided I'd like to live there for a while. I visited a lot of the churches, building connections, hoping to meet someone I could share a house with and while I was at it, being a kind of student of church and mission. Some readers may have met me as I've done this tour.
There's another significant part of the story. A decade ago I estimated this area as less Christian than average, particularly the Peachey Belt, with some of the highest No Religion percentages. After the 2011 census, this had changed. In the 2016 census results, and numbers attending churches, the area is now more Christian than average. The difference is immigration. The largely Christian African refugees who've come to Adelaide in the last 15 years have their highest concentrations in the Elizabeth area.
The 10 suburbs, with just 3% of Adelaide's population, contain over 30 churches. I know of ten places where two churches share one meeting place. Although white Australians are still a large majority of the overall population, fewer than half of church attenders are white. In other words, the white population in Elizabeth remains less Christian than the white population across Adelaide.
As of August 2020 I've lived in the area for a year, in four different houses 2Eliz Park x 2, Eliz East, Davoren Park and various household shapes3Alone; with a cat; with a family; with the homeowner; with him and another man. This is what I planned to do (and now have done):
- Work on the GeoMiss project that this site is about
- Continue with a bit of my paid work
- Participate in the Good News Community, an organic church in Elizabeth Park I've been hanging with for a while
- Help out with wider church stuff - (I helped at the Upside Down Circus, I hoped to see Big Week Out happen in northern Adelaide)
- Maybe find some answers to some questions: What ministry will work with white "battlers"? How can we help the immigrant churches, particularly to see their kids grow up in the faith? And the big one, how can the old and new Australians in the Church work together in the mission? I'll at least have a front-row seat to see some attempts.
So I'm not expecting to do anything amazing - as I said, I advocate for not just the world-changers but also ordinary Christians to choose their position in the light of our mission; and not just the poorest 3% but more like the poorest quarter - Salisbury, Parks, Noarlunga etc. No special calling required.
Moving 20km north is not a big deal. It's not slums, it's not remote, it's still in one of the richest countries in the world, I'm not doing this with kids. I'm not locked in anywhere, so I can bail out if things don't work out. I'm not making big bold moves, I'm aiming for what I hope will be easily replicable by others with a similar background to mine. There's work to do representing Christ in every place, but plenty around Elizabeth.