Daley wrote this insightful comment about Australia's earlier days: "Churches and the Salvation Army consistently emerged as critical providers of social support where the fledgling state welfare service failed."
Not much has changed it seems for he quotes the Australian Council of Social Services:
"... poverty describes the situation confronting people who are prevented from participating in activities most of us take for granted and who therefore must make difficult choices. While many Australians juggle payments of bills, people living in poverty have to make more difficult choices – such as skipping a meal to pay for a child's textbooks."
Paul Daley goes on to say that this includes families with their own home, but who are under mortgage stress or those who have lost their homes due to interest rate hikes.
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson says this article by Paul Daley should be mandatory for all those who decry the Christian Churches, whose attendance numbers are clearly falling. Their contribution to our society at the coal face demonstrates they punch well above their weight in the ongoing welfare for ordinary mothers and fathers and their families.
M V Tronson wonders how exactly ordinary everyday families who are Christians make their mark in the community in these areas, which include all facets of benevolent welfare from babies to those in the twilight of their lives.
To initiate this discussion, even at a very fundamental level, it might be a good idea to look at the percentage split up of numbers of seminary students whose intentions are the church as compared to community ministry.
Take for example, Sydney's Morling College (NSW Baptist seminary), the largest in Australia with 600 students. Only 20% are studying for Ordination, in other words, to end up as a Minister of a congregation or for missionary service overseas. A whopping 80% are training for some kind of ministry within the Australian community.
This basic statistic reveals a paradigm change that has been taking place in recent years.
Reverend Dr Rowland Croucher, Australia's leading theological and pastoral reflector, in his recent Australian Missionary News IPTV interview, stated that the churches are losing the battle to attract customers, rather the surveys show there are more committed Christians not attending church, for the first time ever in history.
Yet, it is these same Christian people who are happily engaged in ministry alongside those who attend 'boring church services' engaged in community ministry. Therefore, it illustrates there is a vast army of Australians who willingly and with the joy of the Lord, are ministering in one way or another.
These areas include feeding the homeless, finding accommodation, visiting the sick in hospitals, providing infant and day care services, leading adolescent and youth ministries as well as schools and university ministries; as well as being involved in respite, sports, full family ministry, retiree groups including ministry to those nearing their end of their lives, and attending to many other areas of need.
Heath and medical services also play a huge role by Christian organisations in a more formal way, although volunteers are also important in the health care centres, hospitals, hospices, mental care facilities, women's shelters, feeding the homeless, rehabilitation centres and many other safe clinic-type environments.
In 1982 Dr David Milikan, a Uniting Church minister, wrote the book 'A Sunburnt Soul' and the statistics he quoted have never been challenged. The Christian Churches provide 82% of the nation's welfare through their personnel, structures and ministry. The Uniting Church for example, is the third largest employer in Queensland.
What does all this say?
Mark Tronson thinks that it says the Christian churches and their followers are alive and well in Australia. They might be a cumbersome lot. They may be staid in their ways. They might even be a bit archaic. They could even be eccentric (many are ….) But what an impact they make to the entire community!