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Playtime is booming

Children at the Aitkenvale Uniting Church playgroup. Photo courtesy of Aitkenvale Uniting Church

ANY parent can testify to the impact of the arrival of a new member of the family.

Add distance, broken relationships or health problems, and parenting can be a hard road to travel.

Rachel Mudge, a new mother who worships at Aitkenvale Uniting Church in Townsville, has observed many of the issues first hand from her role as a teacher.

When her own baby was born last year, she decided to set up a playgroup which would also be a church-based ministry of support and outreach to the community.

Known locally as "the church on the corner" for its location at one of Townsville's main thoroughfares, Aitkenvale Uniting Church is home to a diverse community, including the transient populations from the Australian Defence Force and James Cook University.

"After becoming a mum myself, I began a playgroup to provide mums with a place to socialise and support each other," says Ms Mudge.

The playgroup began in May this year, and has grown to include people from the local Catholic congregation as well as those with no church affiliation.

"My vision is to grow a strong group that feel supported not only by each other but also by the wider community," says Ms Mudge.

"I guess I'm passionate about this ministry because I am a child who has reaped the benefits of being raised in a church community.

"What a difference a Christian community makes to the raising of a child!"

Always glad to see you

Further down the coast is the Gladstone Uniting Church Little Explorers playgroup, which, like the local area, is bursting with newcomers.

As Queensland's major industrial hub, Gladstone is experiencing an influx of young families, most of them far from their support networks.

Karen Sengstock set up the playgroup in 2001.

Sandra Beak started attending with her two young children soon after it started, later picking up the coordination responsibilities.

"The focus is to embrace those who don't have a relationship with Jesus into a caring ministry which supports them, and not just with their parenting.

Gladstone is growing rapidly, and we purposely reach out to those who are new to the area with no family or support network, and offer help in whatever way we can," says Ms Beak.

The program has two groups, each with more than 40 parents, mostly from outside the church community.

New parents turn up every week.

"It is about meeting them where they are, and presenting God in a way they can relate to," says Ms Beak.

"I'm passionate about this ministry, because I've seen transformations take place, where those who have no interest in knowing God begin to ask questions.

"I have had my own life transformed in an amazing way, simply through attendance at playgroup.

"God certainly has his hand on this ministry."

Warm welcome

Operating a play-based group for parents and young children was a natural step for Aspley Uniting Church in Brisbane's northern suburbs.

The Aspley Early Childhood Education Centre (AECEC) already runs a childcare centre, which opened four years ago after an early childhood organisation vacated their premises under the church.

The program Playtime commenced in 2010, followed by the introduction of school-aged care in July this year.

The vision to develop Christian based childcare is integral to the church's outreach to the community, says Peter Waltisbuhl, Chair of the AECEC Management Committee.

"We are the only Christian childcare centre in Aspley.

The centre attracts many families (60 per cent) from other churches in the district."

With its focus on offering a low key program, a warm welcome and a sympathetic ear, Playtime is booming, with 100 parents on the roll for the two sessions, and plans for more.

While only a few of the families who use the different options offered by AECEC are members of the congregation, Mr Peter Waltisbuhl says that building up the church numbers is not the overall objective of this ministry.

"We believe that this is an opportunity for outreach into the community, to support parents, and to talk about the unfathomable love of God."

Photo : Children at the Aitkenvale Uniting Church playgroup. Photo courtesy of Aitkenvale Uniting Church