Cynthia Culleton (left), one of the creators of the Wulguru Uniting Church garden, with fellow cancer centre volunteer and congregation member Barbara Coates. Photo: Brian Venten
Cynthia Culleton (left), one of the creators of the Wulguru Uniting Church garden, with fellow cancer centre volunteer and congregation member Barbara Coates. Photo: Brian Venten

Cancer support brings hope

An outreach to people affected by cancer has given the congregation at Wulguru Uniting Church in Townsville a new lease of life. Dianne Jensen reports.

 When Rev Phillip Hulme came out of retirement a few years ago, the triple-cancer survivor was already thinking about ways of providing holistic support for those affected by the disease. At Wulguru Uniting Church he found a small congregation looking for new ways to connect with their community—and the Holistic Cancer Help Centre (HCHC) was born.

HCHC is a community support ministry run by church volunteers which opened just over 12 months ago. It offers a range of activities including mindfulness sessions, a creative arts program and a music group, using a low-cost membership model plus a small daily charge.

“They had a spare hall so we set up a committee and renovated it with new carpeting, painting and air conditioning,” says Phillip, who maintains a connection with the centre although he is now based in Bowen. Pastor Bruce McCarthy was appointed in a supply capacity to Wulguru in December 2015.

Phillip is a psychologist and the author of Cancer Defeated (2013) whose personal experience has reinforced the value of a holistic approach supporting mental and spiritual wellbeing.

“Cancer is a life challenge, with issues from the disruption to family life to deep existential questions about what a person’s life has been about and what they are going to do,” he says.

“There is a lot of research showing dramatic increases in survival rates for people who are offered group support and help dealing with their fears and their questions.”

The centre attracts up to 20 people from the community each week, and the once dwindling congregation of 15 has effectively doubled.

Brian Venten is chairperson of the church council and the HCHC committee.

“The centre has created significant momentum. Where once our church community was struggling, the congregation is now looking to the future with renewed enthusiasm,” he says.

Renovation of the property has included landscaping of the grounds by volunteers.

“The new gardens facilitate a unique meditative opportunity and we are finding that people are being drawn to the precinct by virtue of the beauty associated with our grounds. We have tried to create a restful space where people feel at peace and at ease, and of course that flows into the whole church community context.”

The HCHC model is being developed for use in other churches, with plans to provide a support network to share resources. For more information contact Bruce McCarthy on 0434 452 762 or tsvhchc@gmail.com, or Rev Phillip Hulme on 0414 499 879 or hulme.phillip@gmail.com

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