by Rosie Schefe
‘Everything changed—my relationship with God, my relationship with Tina and my relationships with the congregation’, Rob Merritt says, recalling the day of his baptism in March 2011.
‘I finally felt complete—that I knew God and knew myself. It felt like I’d had to do some hard work to get to that point, a bit like a baby bird does when hatching out of its egg.
‘Even later, in the following months I was still dusting the last few bits of shell off’, he grins.
Rob and his wife Tina, members at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Birdwood (in the Adelaide hills) look back over their lives and marvel at how, even when they weren’t looking for God, he was looking for them.
‘I did believe in God, but my only exposure to Christians was Religious Instruction at school, with the “Catholics” or the “Methodists”’, Rob says.
‘Then I joined the Navy. Anyone who was known to be Christian had the mickey taken out of them, and again, with the chaplains, you were either “Catholic” or “Protestant”.’
Rob and Tina have experienced the pain and crushing disappointments of broken relationships, but it was one of their children who opened a new door for her parents. Their daughter Nicole joined the Australian Army where, posted to Victoria Barracks in Sydney, she linked up with inner-city St Paul’s Lutheran Church and Pastor Fred Veerhuis. Nicole became a regular volunteer among the young people running the church’s Sunday night Eternity Café for homeless people.
Posted back home to Woodside, South Australia, Nicole continued attending a Lutheran church. Eventually both Nicole and her younger sister were baptised by Pastor Steven Liersch at St John’s, Woodside.
For Rob, this was a moment of encounter: ‘It opened me up to the light—to what Jesus did and to what others are doing in his name’, he says. But it was when Nicole—and then Tina—began attending Holy Cross that the way was fully opened.
‘Nicole came [to Holy Cross] first, then I did. My first reaction was “Finally, a pastor that’s a pastor”; he was a teacher as well’, Tina says. That pastor was [then graduate] Ben Hentschke, now serving in the Ipswich parish, Queensland. ‘The people were awesome too—no pretences, just genuine Christian love and friendship.’
Eventually Tina talked Rob into coming along to worship and he ‘merged in’. When musicians at Holy Cross discovered that Rob was a talented semi-professional guitarist they invited him to join a praise band, opening up a whole new avenue for learning about God through modern Christian music.
Rob also became involved in Men’s Shed activities at Holy Cross, where he found a very supportive group of mates who helped him navigate symptoms of depression after he lost his job.
‘After seeing my daughters baptised I thought, “I’m ready for this” and I began asking lots more questions of Ben and others’, Rob says.
‘Eventually I asked Ben if he would baptise me, and I chose to be baptised by full immersion, as Tina had been and my daughters were at Woodside.