by Helen Beringen
It’s hard to go past a friendly smile greeting you at the door before Sunday worship, or that warm cup of tea or coffee after service.
Isn’t that what makes our faith communities welcoming? Whether new faces or regulars, being made to feel welcome is how we connect as a community.
And, if welcomers are the bricks, then the post-worship conversation and coffee is the mortar.
Every week around Australia and New Zealand, parishioners young and old are rostered on to ensure worshippers are welcomed into God’s house.
Morning tea rituals may have had to adapt in light of health precautions in the current COVID climate, but despite the challenges of sharing food under a pandemic-safe regime, the invitation to talk over a beverage is an important sign of a welcoming community.
Enter the hundreds of folks who, on any given Sunday, have put their hands up to help out.
Our worship life would be the poorer without every person who puts their name on a congregational roster.
In many cases, the same faces have been saying ‘g’day’ or pouring the drinks for decades.
One such couple is Grace and Les Dodt, who celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on July 14 this year. In their current parish of St Pauls Townsville, in north Queensland, the pair had spent most of their 20 years there on the greeting and morning tea rosters until COVID-19 restrictions interrupted worship services in 2020.
Baking for morning tea was Grace’s forte and she is still baking for family members. ‘All my life I have loved cooking and baking, and I still love cooking’, Grace says. ‘We have a cooked breakfast and a hot lunch every day.’
Even though home-cooked goodies are off morning tea menus at some churches for the moment, that doesn’t stop Grace from baking at home, especially for her family.
‘I just love my six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren’, she says. They have a daughter, Kaylene, in Townsville and their son, Russell, lives in Tasmania.
When The Lutheran caught up with Grace, 90, and husband Les, 96, there was an apricot jam slice in the oven ready to share at a family lunch with Kaylene and her family.
Family was the reason for their move to Townsville 20 years ago.
Before that, they ushered, baked and boiled kettles at another St Pauls congregation, this time in Toowoomba on Queensland’s Darling Downs.
As a couple who were brought up and married in the Lutheran church, the Dodts have always been active in church life.
Both grew up in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, with Grace raised at Minden, mid-way between Brisbane and Toowoomba, and Les in nearby Gatton.
It was a church synod that brought them together when they were introduced by Les’s cousin Ron, who was a synod delegate billeting with Grace’s family in 1948. The pair married after a three-year courtship, settling first on Les’s family farm near Ropeley before moving to Toowoomba, where Les worked for 36 years in the Northern Australia Breweries’ malt factory. He even received a gold watch for his efforts!
Grace loved volunteering with The Good Samaritan op shop run by the local Toowoomba and Darling Downs ladies guild, where different congregational members were rostered on to assist in the bargain shop, and where she made many friends.
Then there was ladies guild, choir, flowers, baking and the cradle roll. Like volunteers in church communities around Australia and New Zealand, Grace and Les have been on the church roster almost all of their married life.
‘I love serving God and my fellow man’, Grace shares. She loves music too, choir singing and playing the organ and piano. But nerves and age have kept her from playing in church. Greeting and ushering have been Les’s favourite volunteer jobs. ‘I’ve liked welcoming strangers especially’, he says.
While the pair are now starting to slow down, they remain in good health and are still both able to drive themselves to church each Sunday.
While no longer on the roster, they remain welcoming to all at St Pauls – being part of the worship community is an important part of their lives.
‘It is very important, as it makes people feel at home’, says Les.
So together, after 70 years of marriage, they remain fruitful, just as Psalm 92:14 reminds us that, ‘in old age they still produce fruit’.