Going GREYT! 1 Peter 4:10

Over the years, this column has celebrated how God’s light shines through those who share their talents in his service. Those interviewed are but a small reflection of the many quiet workers in God’s vineyard. This month, as we observe All Saints’ Day, we bring you a posthumous Going GREYT! account of a couple recently called to their heavenly home, whose story shows how God works through the joys and heartbreaks of our lives and remains with us always.

by Helen Brinkman

Originally a shy farmer’s daughter from the Wimmera region of Victoria, Jill Schefe has been recognised for her efforts as a vibrant community connector through the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Servant of Christ Award.

Born Jillene Heinrich, the eldest of three children, she grew up on a wheat and sheep property in Kaniva, not far from the South Australian border. After finishing school, drought in the Wimmera led her to spend a year droving sheep.

Despite her grandmother’s belief that girls shouldn’t pursue further education, Jill, now 73, undertook two years of theological studies at Lutheran Teachers College in North Adelaide to become a deaconess. ‘The term “deaconess” comes from the Greek word “Diakonia”, which means servant’, explains Jill. ‘It is a ministry of word and service.’

The modest study cost of $450 included two years of tuition and board. On graduating in 1969, she was assigned to the Metropolitan Missions Committee for the next three years and worked six days a week across various parishes in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, including Tea Tree Gully, Cheltenham, Port Adelaide and Hampstead under four different pastors.

‘Every day was a new challenge, and my work changed all the time’, she says. ‘It helped me overcome my natural shyness. I realised that shyness was pride turned inwards, so reliance on my Lord was my call.’

Jill taught religious education in schools, led confirmation classes and Bible studies, the latter with the youth and women’s fellowships, as well as taking adult instruction in the Christian faith and visiting members or the unchurched and serving in other ways when required.

Her mentor and pastor of one of her first parishes, Clarrie Janetzki, had said at the time, ‘You are the only bible some people are ever going to know’.

‘I felt so enriched by working in different parishes. As they introduced me to different types of ministry, each pastor modelled different ways of ministering’, Jill says. ‘I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into evangelism and later as a pastor’s wife. You were just all the time engaging with people.’

It was at a birthday party in April 1972 that Jill met her future husband Clarrie Schefe, who was a seminary student. Engaged in July of that same year, Jill completed a six-week course in preparation for her role as a pastor’s wife before they married in Tea Tree Gully in February 1973.

After their marriage, Clarrie was assigned to Ceduna as their first parish in 1974. During their three years on the west coast of South Australia, their first son, Paul, was born. After contending with the outback dust and even a dog urinating in the Koonibba church during a service, her husband was called to Biloela in Central Queensland in 1976 to establish a Lutheran nursing home and Lutheran primary school.

The Biloela parish was 250 kilometres long and included four congregations and a preaching place. ‘We spent nearly 11 years in Biloela’, says Jill. The couple had two more children, Warren and Cassandra, while there and now have six grandchildren. Jill continues to stay connected with her grandchildren and even teaches confirmation lessons to her granddaughter Jessica, 14, via video call.

Throughout her journey as a pastor’s wife in various parishes, including Dimboola in Victoria, Jill has found ways to connect with people. ‘In Dimboola I rode my bike for exercise incorporating visiting parishioners as well’, she says. Jill adds that it was ‘easy to chat over the fence’ in their front yards, or perhaps stop in for a cuppa.

She and Clarrie moved to the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland in 2003, before he officially retired in 2010. And while Jill is officially retired, she still receives an honorarium for her care of the parish, including teaching, visiting the sick, aged and the isolated, as well as distributing private communion, hosting Bible studies and affirming folk in their faith.

Whether it be a women’s fellowship or a Bible study group, or organising confirmation classes and parish visits, she strives to keep in contact with members of the parish, even despite COVID restrictions over the past few years.

‘COVID can’t stop you in your spiritual growth, you’ve got to think outside the square’, says Jill. ‘During COVID, the parish has not had a full-time pastor and I started sharing the daily devotions, adding items related to our local parish, and adding hymns and images and sharing them.’

Jill also writes letters and designs cards as a tangible way of making connections. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention. I learnt to use my own resources to keep in contact with everyone when everyone was alienated’, she says. ‘My commission is to be adhesive.’

Jill feels blessed to have so many opportunities to share the gospel. However, she was overwhelmed to receive the Servant of Christ award. ‘I didn’t realise simple acts of kindness would be recognised’, she says. She was nominated by Glasshouse Mountains congregation for her unwavering dedication and service to their congregation and the wider church.

Last month, for the first time in five years, the whole family was able to come together (minus one ill member) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Clarrie’s ministry, and an early commemoration of Jill and Clarrie’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was a special moment for the couple, who have spent their lives connecting with and serving their communities.

Jill says Philippians 4:13 reminds her of the source of their strength: ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’

Helen Brinkman 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 lisa.mcintosh@lca.org.au

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