by Helen Brinkman

A life walking with God is something to sing about – at any age.

And for one of the Lutheran Church’s oldest choir members, it’s a blessing he’s still singing about at the age of 96.

A simple statement in Genesis about a chap named Enoch walking with God gets to the heart of God’s love for us, says Emeritus Bishop Pastor Reinhard Mayer.

Found in Genesis 5:24, the four words ‘Enoch walked with God’ form Reinhard’s favourite Old Testament Bible passage.

‘It just tells you everything about who God is and his place in our lives, that he just comes to us and walks with us’, Reinhard says.

That has kept the tenor as an active member of the St Peters Lutheran Church choir in Indooroopilly, in suburban Brisbane.

In February this year, the congregational choir celebrated Reinhard’s 96th birthday at its regular practice. Reinhard’s role as a choral tenor is likely to make him the oldest active tenor in the church.

He’s keen to see how long he can keep going, noting: ‘It is a little unusual, as your voice loses its flexibility and resonance.’

‘The moment you think you have reached your use-by date – it is still worth keeping on going, as once you stop that, you lose something’, he says. Reinhard takes that same message to heart in his daily life – he still lives independently and drives.

Reinhard’s tenacity has shown throughout his eventful life, which began in 1927 in the small wine-growing village of Nierstein on the banks of the Rhine River in Germany. When he was one, his family emigrated to Queensland’s Darling Downs, swapping vineyards for a dairy farm.

It was a tough time. After surviving the Great Depression, and the drought of 1935-6, World War II ended Reinhard’s youth abruptly. The need for local workers forced the then 15-year-old to the local cheese factory where he took on the back-breaking work of several men, heaving 35 to 40-kilogram blocks of cheese onto cold room shelves.

Post-war the family moved to Brisbane, managing a milk run. After five years of working from midnight til morning, Reinhard began feeling he wasn’t fully using his God-given abilities. ‘I had a growing feeling I should do something else but had not gone beyond Grade 7 at school’, he recalls.

When Pastor Max Lohe from his local Nazareth congregation at Woolloongabba in inner Brisbane suggested he join the seminary, Reinhard responded with an absolute ‘no’. He not only was very shy and lacked confidence, but Reinhard had left school in Grade 7. ‘The thought of becoming a pastor scared the living daylights out of me.’

However, the seed was sown. ‘After a year of telling God “No, find something else for me”, all of a sudden, things changed’, he says. Reinhard’s younger brother Rolph was partway through his own seminary studies, prompting Reinhard to consider whether he could have taken a similar path, given changed circumstances.

Within a month of his parents realising Reinhard’s ambition, he was enrolled at Brisbane’s St Peters College, 10 years after he’d first left school. Aged 22, Reinhard achieved his leaving certificate by cramming four years of studies into 18 months.

‘It took a lot of effort, but I was determined.  I set my mind to it and got through. I went on to the seminary, and the rest, as they say, is history.’

In 1955, Reinhard Mayer was ordained at Nazareth Lutheran Church, four years after his younger brother Rolph, who went on to become chaplain at Immanuel College, in Adelaide, and then principal of Lutheran Teachers College.

Despite a heart for the country, Reinhard only spent three years in parish ministry, serving in Mildura and Loxton after his ordination. He went on to serve a total of 25 years as chaplain of St Peters College, Indooroopilly, which included a full-time teaching role – not only religious studies but also Latin, Greek and Mathematics!

‘I love Maths, and they were some of the happiest years of my life, so I became a teacher as well as a pastor.’

After 16 years, his chaplaincy was interrupted by 12 years as Queensland District President from 1974 (now known as District Bishop). He then returned for nine further years at St Peters until retirement in 1995, aged 67.

Reinhard’s connection to St Peters had begun in the late 1940s when the college was under development, heavily supported by volunteer labour. As his milk run hours were midnight to 8am, Reinhard and brother George used their milk trucks and muscles to cart sand and gravel, mix cement or dig foundations during the day.

When he returned to St Peters as chaplain in 1958, he was accompanied by his wife Thelma, whom he married 18 months after his ordination. During their 60 years of marriage, they welcomed six children.

Reinhard says that since Thelma’s passing seven years ago, living alone means he doesn’t use his voice as much. That’s one way the choir has helped. He’s been blessed to have his son Greg as the organist and choir accompanist, and his daughter-in-law Tricia Elgar as the choir conductor.

And so, the singing continues, as does Reinhard’s walk with God.

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

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