by Lisa McIntosh

For Susie Taylor, the LCA/NZ church plant at Pakenham’s Lakeside College in Melbourne’s outer south-eastern suburbs is an answer to prayer – and a place where God is working miracles in people’s lives.

Pakenham Lakeside Church is a fairly small church – with an average attendance of about 25 per Sunday – but it’s seen as very friendly. At Pakenham, Susie has found a community where she and her family thrive on belonging.

Having grown up in the Orthodox tradition and having been formerly involved with both Baptist and Pentecostal churches, she had been looking for a way to reconnect with a church family in regular worship. When she met her partner Vince, whose background was in the Lutheran Church, he considered himself an agnostic and, Susie, says, wasn’t a ‘churchy person’. For years she prayed that they could be part of a church community and practise faith together.

Vince had tried going along with Susie to a Pentecostal church but he didn’t feel comfortable or keen to continue attending.

Then, about three years ago, Vince’s daughter was invited by a friend to worship at Pakenham. Going through a divorce, she felt welcomed and cared for by members of the church, which was planted by the Victorian District of the LCA in 2015. She decided to have her young children baptised there and invited Vince and Susie to come along.

Around that time, Vince had some health problems. Pakenham’s Pastor Nathan Hedt visited Vince in hospital, ministered to him and prayed for him, which Susie believes was critical in Vince coming back to the church.

‘I think that appealed to him that there was someone out there who really cared’, she says. ‘He started getting to know Pastor Nathan and became friends with him. I think the fact, too, that when Vince was younger, he went to a Lutheran church was important. I think he just wanted to get back to his roots.’

Gradually, Vince and Susie got to know Pastor Nathan, who is also College Pastor at the school, his wife Yvette and other members. Building relationships created connections for Susie and Vince, and church worship at Pakenham became a regular thing.

‘It’s been a real answer to prayer; a big, big answer to prayer’, Susie says. ‘I never, ever thought I’d see Vince in church, ever. So for me, it’s been a real answer to prayer. And when I see him at church, I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe it’s happening. When I first met him, he considered himself an agnostic, whereas now he’s a Christian.

‘We also wanted to go to church, too, to support his daughter and the children – to encourage them with what they were doing. It’s been wonderful that they were introduced to the church, too, because they didn’t have any previous involvement with the church at all. So it’s been a miracle, it’s amazing. God is at work, definitely.’

Now Susie and Vince volunteer at the church and are part of the service roster, helping to prepare the space for Sunday worship. They also hosted a Bible study group at Susie’s house last year and she is keen to increase her volunteer service with others from Lakeside, taking meals and friendship to members of the local community.

‘We’re trying to introduce more things into the community that help the community’, Susie says. ‘It is different from how many people have experienced church, because instead of just preaching to people, you’re showing your love through making meals, befriending people and visiting people who may be lonely. You are extending love by doing things for people, being there and ministering to them. I think there is a real need for that and I think it does change people’s perspective of a traditional church because it makes it more personal.’

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