My ministry: Community conversations

Have your say: The chalkboard has been a huge hit with the Taree community. Photo: Scott Calvin/Manning River Times.

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Write your biggest regret.

These were the four words written on a giant chalkboard on a New York street, inviting members of the public to answer. Later, they were given an eraser to “wipe out” their regrets, leaving a “clean slate”. The honest answers by real people turned into a viral video that has been watched by more than five million people worldwide.

The YouTube video eventually made its way to the mid-north coast of New South Wales, and into the hands of Taree Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor Graham Stewart.

The video touched Pastor Stewart’s heart, and he immediately saw a way to connect with his community. A blackboard was promptly set up on the front of the church on Cowper Street in November 2016 to see what would happen. The only word written on it was “Eternity”.

“We got a huge response with people contributing to the board,” says Pastor Stewart.

“One instance that stands out was when church members wrote a slogan from a community member’s funeral: ‘We’ll see you in the morning.’ That simple sentence got some beautiful reactions on the board.”

The responses both to and on the blackboard have largely been positive. “I’ve got a lot of new people coming to the church, and they love the idea,” says Pastor Stewart. “In fact, another local church down the road loved the idea so much, they’ve set up their own blackboard out the front!”

The original blackboard has been so well used it was decommissioned. In April a new blackboard was made of marine ply, to withstand the weather. Two Indigenous Australian church members will paint a border in an Aboriginal design around the blackboard.

Leaving out a blackboard with chalk does, of course, invite the bad with the good. Pastor Stewart says bad words are occasionally written on the board, mostly by children. But community members are taking collaborative ownership and often wipe out the nasty words when walking past.

“Putting bad words up doesn’t bother us,” says Pastor Stewart. “It’s all part of trying to connect with people. Whether it’s writing down good words or wiping out bad words, it’s beautiful to see people reacting and contributing.”

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