By Helen Beringen
Joy Mules was about three years old when she caught the music bug. In around 1938, the brass bands parading through the streets of Tanunda, in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, drew her away from her mother’s side to march off with one of them.
And just like the German heritage of that annual brass band competition, her rich music heritage was founded in the Lutheran Church.
The eldest of five children, Joy began learning to play the piano at eight years old and by 14 she was playing for Sunday school at the Berri-Renmark Parish in South Australia’s Riverland.
Her pastor, Ern Stolz, encouraged her to take a turn to play for the worship service, a gift she has continued to share for the past 70 years.
Now turning 86 this month, Joy is still on the organ roster at St John’s congregation Unley, where she has worshipped since moving to Adelaide from the Riverland two years ago.
Whether it’s organ music for worship services, piano accompaniment for choirs, or singing, music continues to be the lifeblood flowing through Joy’s veins.
Born in Berri in 1935, Joy grew up Glossop and was cutting apricots on the family property by the age of five.
Her interest in music was also a family affair, as the wider family had lovely singing voices and would gather monthly on a Sunday night for singsongs, she recalls.
Joy even met her husband Jim through music, at a local fundraising dance where she was making sandwiches in the kitchen for supper, as her father thought that, at 16, she was too young to attend. Jim ended up dancing her down the aisle in 1958.
‘We moved to Barmera to a fruit property where we raised our son Peter, and our two daughters Jenny and Angela, all of whom have done us proud’, Joy says. The family has now grown to include five grandchildren.
Music sustained Joy through the tough years of bringing up a family and fruit picking and pruning on the property with Jim.
Joy continued to share her musical talents in her church and community until retiring from the farm at age 70, after her husband’s passing.
‘I had to keep serving the Lord no matter what stage of life I was in’, she says. ‘I need to continue doing what I can while I can, that’s keeping me going.’
Joy has volunteered for most of her life, influenced by Christian parents. She was even her congregational delegate at the LCA’s General Synod in 1976 – four years before women received the right to vote at Synod, so she was only granted observer status.
Her church life has been full, with commitments including Sunday school teaching, church council membership and serving as chairperson. Her volunteer efforts in the broader Riverland community, which spanned sport and the arts, were recognised by an Australia Day honour in 2018 when she was named ‘Citizen of the Year’ by the Berri Barmera Council, which she describes as a ‘humbling privilege’.
That same philosophy led Joy to volunteer to raise funds to support refugee children to go to school through the Australian Lutheran World Service Walk My Way fundraiser through the town and countryside of SA’s Barossa Valley on 1 May this year.
Walking from Nuriootpa to Tanunda, Joy was the oldest registered participant, raising enough money to send almost seven refugee children to school.
Despite not being a regular walker, Joy covered just over nine kilometres, not including her training sessions with daughter Angela, who accompanied her on the walk.
‘I was halfway, and I suddenly thought, “God, please give me strength”, and he did’, Joy recalls.
That same strength still sees her on the church roster for readings, flowers and organ at St John’s Unley, as well as volunteering her time to play the piano for residents at the nearby Fullarton Lutheran Homes fortnightly and hymns in the chapel once a month.
Her husband once asked her when she was going to retire from playing the organ. Her response: ‘I’m not going to retire, why would I? God has given me this talent.’
‘I have had a few challenges throughout my journey through life and have only managed them because of my faith in my Lord and Saviour’, she says. ‘Faith is my second name.’
How fitting then, that her favourite Psalm 23 is one she’s sung at many special occasions including weddings and funerals. It is an ongoing reminder of his guidance throughout her life.
‘I always ask God to guide my fingers to play for his glory.’