by Helen Beringen
It was a baptism of fire raining down on the head of Elisabeth Clarke that sparked her unique ministry almost a decade ago.
Well, it was actually a box of about 50 cardboard cut-out candles falling from a box that caused her (pre-) light bulb moment. At the time the active retiree was baptismal co-ordinator for Immanuel Lutheran Church at Gawler, north of Adelaide.
Then it hit her – the box of candles. The decorations had fallen onto her head from a cupboard in her small church office. Thankfully, no damage was done.
But it got her thinking. The candle decorations, now scattered on the carpet, appeared just in time for the upcoming Pentecost Sunday.
‘I thought “Holy smoke, I might just use these candles somehow”’, she says. And so they went up around the church foyer, becoming her first display.
So began a ministry that has created inviting and interesting spaces in church foyers – areas which Elisabeth says are often relegated to being busy, cluttered storage spaces.
Her displays have ranged from seasonal wall-mounted decorations and brightly coloured posters, to inviting displays of tracts for people to take. In her current congregation of Immanuel, North Adelaide, Elisabeth has made a large wooden cross – which she found sitting unused in a corner – the centrepiece of her all foyer displays.
‘I made Christ the centre of everything I did’, she says.
Elisabeth says the concept of presenting a peaceful space to all who enter is a way of blessing everyone who walks through the church doors.
Her prayer is that foyers will not be a forgotten entrance but used to share welcoming messages about the church and its seasons, such as Lent, Easter, Advent and Christmas.
She has even included displays of stolls, the ecclesiastical vestments worn around pastors’ shoulders. Elisabeth, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, has shared the beauty of those raiments in many a display.
Elisabeth’s work has also shown that foyers can provide great mission support. ‘I used to have tracts displayed hanging from tree branches and sitting underneath. People would pick up tracts and share them with friends’, she says. ‘It was like a little mission outreach in the foyer.’
And now, as some congregations slowly reopen their doors to worship, the challenge will be how we can ensure our entry spaces become inviting, peaceful spaces again.
‘It’s a real challenge, in the current circumstances’, says Elisabeth. ‘Going forward, as our churches reopen, how can we bless people walking through the door?’
Taking the time to think about what the foyer can do to inspire people to feel comfortable within their church family is key, she says.
‘We are inviting people into a place of peace. When they come in and out of church they always feel that sense of peace … it has a good feeling about it’, she says.
Her efforts are reflected in her favourite hymn, based on the prayer of Francis of Assisi, ‘Make me a channel of your peace’ (Lutheran Hymnal no. 858).
‘It comes back to God being in this heart of this,’ Elisabeth says.
Seeking advice on how you can create a welcoming church foyer? Email Elisabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone her on 0447 250 202.
Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.
Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor email@example.com