How do I start a local CMDFA group? – Dr Catherine Hollier

Stirring one another to show the love of Christ in our work and study


From Luke’s Journal Timeless Articles

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

In the busyness of life, it is easy to neglect simply meeting together for the purpose of encouragement. While CMDFA National and State events provide teaching and facilitate connections amongst the broader CMDFA fellowship, local gatherings create the opportunity to get to know others who live and practice nearby. This further facilitates close mentoring relationships in which we can stir up one another to show the love of Christ in our work and study. 

Although we are still working out how best to do this in Newcastle, we have had the privilege of seeing God grow a strong fellowship starting with a few people meeting in a home over a meal, to having to cater commercially and find a venue to accommodate over 50 healthcare workers and students. Here is the history of how it started in Newcastle, what it looks like today, and some of the nuts and bolts. 

The Why

Early in the 1990s, local Christian doctors who were unable to travel to Sydney for CMDFA meetings began meeting informally in their homes, sharing supper and discussing a topic of interest. Some students also attended, including myself, and the doctors mentored students, inviting them to share a meal and to get to know their families. These meetings gradually diminished in number and petered out over the course of the decade.

At the same time, a spouses’ group was also formed which met regularly for Bible study and fellowship. This concluded in 2003 with the formation of a Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) group as its members felt that they should move out to reach other women. Most of the members assisted in the formation of BSF and some continue to lead weekly as the group has grown over the years.

In 2003, as a GP who had been practising for seven years, I attended the National CMDFA Conference on Phillip Island where one of the early IMPACT conferences (for students and recent graduates) was running concurrently. There, I was inspired by the student enthusiasm for combining medicine and the gospel, and invigorated by their youthful engagement and energy. I remembered how in my own days as a student I was mentored by my current boss, and appreciated how formative that relationship had been for me in practising medicine faithfully as a Christian. 

“I was inspired by the student enthusiasm for combining medicine and the gospel, and invigorated by their youthful engagement and energy.”

This led me to start a local fellowship for the students in Newcastle. At the time I was a new mum, with another on the way, and so decided to use my home for this ministry. 

Together with Drs Peter and Beth Ravenscroft, we made a plan to meet a few times a year in my home with local doctors speaking on various topics. There was already a Med Bible Study on campus, run by the AFES (Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students) so we invited them to come along. I regret to say, that other than at the beginning of the year, I neglected to pray regularly for the ministry. 

Nevertheless, God works for our good despite our unfaithfulness, and over the years we have developed many relationships with students through these meetings. What follows outlines how we have developed meetings in Newcastle, but is by no means prescriptive. Essentially, it requires one or two passionate doctors, prayer, and utilising links with existing Christian medical student groups. 

The How

At the beginning of each year, we meet with the AFES staff and the Med Bible Study student leadership to plan dates and get a sense of the AFES events through the year. Two students are chosen to attend the CMDFA Vision leadership training conference in January. Since Med Bible Study meets on a Monday, all our meetings (except the O Week meeting) run on a Monday so that the whole Bible Study can come to the meeting without needing to clear another evening in their week. The AFES staff is very supportive and we try and maximise the relationships across the groups.

We look at the dates of the student terms Years 1-5, including holidays and exams. We have found Stuvac to be a good time to meet since a break, with a free meal and prayer, is often welcome, and it doesn’t clash with classes. We usually aim for five local meetings about two months apart. Our general year looks something like this:

• O week social in March
• IMPACT in April
• meeting in early June
• meeting in late July
• meeting in early October
• social in November during Stuvac

Our social in O Week is advertised by a student leader from Med Bible Study to each year and at Med Bible Study. We run a BBQ and pool party asking for a gold coin donation (state committees can help fund events if needed). We take down contact details and give a short spiel of what CMDFA is about and the details of our meetings for the year, usually in the form of a business card, which can be cheaply made online by sites such as 

We encourage students to go to IMPACT, especially when it is nearby in Sydney and when they are nearing graduation when they will require practical skills in integrating faith and practice. IMPACT is invaluable for exposure to others in the CMDFA family, as well as for solid biblical teaching about keeping Christ at the centre – an essential perspective as medicine has a tendency to claim pre-eminence in the secular world. Conference electives also cover many different areas that are directly relevant to a wide variety of students.

For our meetings, we usually start with a home-cooked meal if the group is less than thirty in number. It is simple and relatively inexpensive to make a pasta meal, fried rice, or soup and rolls, with something like ice cream in cones for dessert after the talk. I am not much of a cook so there is plenty of scope for those who are more culinarily gifted! We eat at 6.30pm, and the formal meeting starts at 7.15pm. We aim to finish by 9pm so it is not too late a night. Every meeting we make introductions to facilitate networking for newcomers. This helps students identify doctors and know their interests, and for doctors to get an idea of what stage the students are up to. For the first ten years, there were often only a couple of Christian doctors in attendance. More recently, we have included other Christian health professionals, so introductions facilitate referrals and wider networking. We also collect contact details from those who wish to join our email list and make our event business card available. Sometimes, we have Luke’s Journal and useful books on display (most of which are available from

In a three year cycle, one of our meetings is either on mission, spiritual history-taking (Saline Solution) or Biblical counselling (through CCEF – Christian Counselling & Education Foundation). This gives us the chance to be regularly challenged and have our skills refreshed in integrating faith and practice. For the mission nights, we invite locals who have been involved in mission to present. This can be difficult if they are currently serving overseas! However, we have had students present on electives, as well as doctors involved in both long and short-term mission, including to indigenous Australians. More information on the Saline Solution and Biblical counselling can be found at (contact Michael Burke in Australia on ) and (contact in Australia).

“Essentially, it requires one or two passionate doctors, prayer, and utilising links with existing Christian medical student groups.”

We also aim to include an event addressing abortion and beginning of life issues every three-four years, which we did in 2015 with a talk from Dr Megan Best, palliative care specialist, ethicist, and author of Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. This topic is so relevant in today’s climate that it drew record attendance. In 2019, we addressed pre-natal testing and care in this increasingly complex ethical field.

Other topics are usually chosen by the students themselves during the last social of the year. These have included “Managing Money”, “Stress Management”, “Work-Life Balance”, “How do you choose a specialty?”, “Dealing with Death”, “Psychiatry from a Christian perspective”, “Keeping Your Faith and Family Intact” and “My Sister’s Keeper”. Each year we choose two topics and try and lock in a couple of local speakers so that we can include them on our events business card. In our final meeting we also break into groups of two-three to pray for each other. At the end of last year, the students had so many questions and suggestions that we incorporated an open panel Q&A with our first social at the beginning of this year. The panel included two GPs and two specialists, representing a few different generations, and it was immensely encouraging for students and graduates.

We have also begun a tradition of hosting a graduation dinner at the end of each year. We try to include those graduating mid-year, although some will have left the local area. At the dinner we present each graduate with a book pack, one of the older doctors gives a speech encouraging them to persevere with their faith in the busyness and challenges of internship, we promote ongoing fellowship through Intern Book Camp, IMPACT and the ReGS Retreat, and then pray for the graduates. If they are moving cities, we encourage them to link with their new local CMDFA network.

The Lessons Learnt

Here are some of the things that we have learnt over the years:

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
(1 Corinthians 3:7 ESV)

Pray – Building the Kingdom and equipping the saints is ultimately God’s work, not ours. We are dependent on Him. 

Have a team – a partnership of at least two key people is immensely encouraging. Work can be divided, backup is available, and prayer is more likely to happen. 

Utilise social media – a closed Facebook group is a useful tool for advertising events. (‘Closed’ because there are many random people who seem to want to join without any connection, and home addresses are public. Also sometimes the group can be hijacked by people who are anti-Christian and want to push their own agendas.) The disadvantage is that people need to be added by an administrator. I usually designate the student leaders to be administrators and try and screen those who are unknown by visiting their pages. It is not usually too hard to work out who is genuine.

Use emails as well – It is worthwhile having email RSVPs since Facebook RSVPs seem less reliable. Also, older doctors are more likely to be contactable by email than Facebook.

Cater for a few extra on the night

Peer dinners may be helpful for larger groups – e.g. divide the students into year groups and meet for dinner and devotions in a doctor’s home a couple of times a year. These kinds of events can facilitate life-long, encouraging friendships. 

Connect with existing groups – For example: The AFES group on campus has been our first point of student contact. Local hospital fellowships developed in partnership with an existing chaplain’s prayer group. A local representative of the Nurses Christian Fellowship Australia (NCFA) has started attending our meetings and we are exploring with her how our fellowships may collaborate in Newcastle. Local churches can assist with venues and advertise to their health professional members. 

Be creative – we have tried many different things to involve local Christian health professionals and draw them into the network – informal dinners, ‘think tank’ afternoon teas, emails with the nurses Christian fellowship, formal mentoring, visiting Mercy Mission ships, etc.. 

The Joys

Involvement with students over the last dozen years has been extremely life-enriching and worthwhile. It is such a joy to see students grow in their faith and to see them progress through life and medicine in many different areas. Think back on your own life and those who influenced you to stay in the faith and to season your medical practice with salt. Determine to do that for others. It is richly rewarding for everyone involved. 

Dr Catherine Hollier
Dr Catherine Hollier is a part-time GP in Newcastle. She loves cradle-to-grave medicine, whole-person healthcare and gentle camaraderie with her patients.

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