Nine months after floods devastated the community around the Central West New South Wales town of Forbes last November, including inundating their 90-year-old church building, members of the Lutheran congregation finally returned ‘home’.

On 27 August, St John’s Lutheran Church was reopened, rededicated and blessed during a worship service led by Pastor James Leach, who described the occasion as a homecoming.

‘Homes provide shelter. Safety, warmth. A place to sit and rest. Eat. Talk. Share. A place to work. To play. To make things and to make memories’, Pastor James said in his sermon. ‘And this building that we are gathered in is no exception.

‘But this building has an additional purpose: it is to be the light of Christ to this town. St John’s Lutheran Church, a light to Forbes. This building has the purpose of forming God’s people into bearers of God’s light so that those who witness our light will give glory to God.’

Congregational chairperson Michelle Mahlo said it was ‘such a good feeling’ to be back at St John’s spiritual home after months of worshipping in members’ homes.

‘Looking at our church and hall today we are grateful for the fact that it looks the same as before. However, we can see that it has been refreshed and invigorated’, Michelle said, citing the ‘excellent support’ of the LCANZ and LCA Insurance, as well as the local restoration team.

In November, with ‘some expectation of a flood event occurring’, some items had been removed from the church and the organ was lifted onto pews. But, Michelle said, ‘at the last opportunity available with minutes to spare’, the State Emergency Service was called upon to sandbag the church.

After 200mm of floodwaters came through the building, it was declared unsafe due to contaminants on the walls and floors and from under the floors. Restoration work began in May.

LCANZ members supported the Forbes community through prayers and donations to a special flood appeal for the region.

At the same time, during the height of the crisis, Pastor James, his wife Adele and others from the Central West Lutheran Parish listened to and talked with people worst hit by the emergency, and took them home-cooked meals, other food and drinks, gift cards, tracts and other items they needed.

However, living through the floods was also a struggle for the Lutheran family there. ‘In these last months, we faced obstacles’, Pastor James said. ‘The first obstacle was coming into the church on the days after the flooding and seeing all the mud and filth throughout the building … and just knowing that this was a bigger job than any of us were going to be able to do on our own.

‘We knew though that the bigger and more important task for the church at this time was to be in the community.

‘Other obstacles arose, and through each of those obstacles God provided what we needed and so much more. God indeed seemed determined to get this restoration done – but for what purpose?

‘There are a few really good reasons, but the one that sticks out the most today is because this is our home. It’s the place God has given us where we can come and receive shelter from the things that get on top of us in our lives. It’s a place where we can come and receive the warmth of God’s forgiveness and love. It’s a place where we can be refreshed to go back into our lives with refocused energy to love the world around us.’

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