You are here: Home / Media / Hillsong: Helping or hunting recruits for their Church? December 2005

Hillsong: Helping or hunting recruits for their Church? December 2005

Celina Ribeiro in the December 2005 edition of the South Sydney Herald reports Hillsong Church has defended itself against community concerns aimed at their operations in the south Sydney area Corning under fire for allegedly using their social welfare arm to recruit for the church. Hillsong representatives insist that their main objective is to assist the local people.

At a community meeting on Sunday 20th of November, rep­resentatives of the Hillsong com­munity service arm, Emerge, met with local community members to address concerns about the distinc­tion between religious recruitment and social welfare.

Leigh Coleman, head of Emerge, says the organisation is a profes­sional charity and does not believe it is appropriate to bring religion into welfare activity.

Emerge has been operating in the area for several years and runs programmes including financial assistance for families in need, a non-residential drug service, aged care, micro enterprise development and personal development courses for girls in local high schools. Emerge is funded by Hillsong Church member donations and works under the Redfern Waterloo Authority. It is legally classified as separate from the sometimes-con­troversial Hillsong Church.

One of the chief community concerns raised at the recent meet­ing was the 'street teams'. Street teams, identified by their bright orange T-shirts, are made up of volunteers from Hillsong Church who wander targeted streets offering help to residents with tasks such as gardening. Emerge's Vera Coleman insists the volunteers have strict orders "not to cross the line" in pushing the Hillsong reli­gious agenda onto those they help.

Emerge said volunteers were subject to reprimand for crossing the line, but that if someone asked about religion then they were encouraged to assist the person in coming to Hillsong. They admitted this sometimes involved physically taking people to Hillsong services. A young female street team mem­ber said street teams were about "building community and building family" and that the vast majority of those whom volunteers help never attend a Hillsong service.

The 188 Kids programme, run by the Church arm, also sparked a level of distrust among some who feel Hillsong is targeting young, vulnerable children. 188 Kids volunteers run activities and bible story workshops for young primary school-aged children on the weekend at the PCYC. Hillsong representatives stressed that paren­tal permission is needed before any child is allowed to attend.

Faye Williams, a secular welfare worker, argued that there are many organisations doing similar work to Emerge in the area that do not enjoy the same generous funding. Further concerns were raised about Hillsong activities in schools and whether religious ideology influ­enced the advice given to students on questions of sex and sexuality.

Emerge, however, got the thumbs up from the Aboriginal Housing Company, which congratulated the organisation on its good work in the community.

Mick Mundine said that Emerge shows love in the community and should not be condemned. Leigh Coleman also expressed support for the AHC, which he said was the expert authority on many social issues and strategies for Redfern.