by Lisa McIntosh

Even though public worship returned in many churches in South Australia in July, Pastor Fin Klein has a seemingly strange message for members of St Michael’s Lutheran Church Hahndorf this Christmas Eve: Stay home.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. The idea is that each member family of the Adelaide Hills congregation will invite neighbours, colleagues, friends or extended family to their place to share fellowship, food and to watch 7pm worship via community TV or the internet. The hope is to have 50 to 60 St Michael’s members host as many guests as they are able, taking into account government regulations.

In other years, St Michael’s would expect to welcome up to 800 people to its main Christmas Eve service. Those numbers mean the congregation, which has been live-streaming a weekly service for 10 years and partners with Lutheran Media in that space, needs to take the service outside into its carpark. This year, with physical-distancing regulations still in place and, as of mid-November, increasing in South Australia, even the carpark won’t be big enough – hence the encouragement for congregation members to form a network of house churches.

St Michael’s will advertise this different Christmas worship in the community through letterbox drops, banners and social media. And anyone who would like to join in can contact the church and be connected into a group.

‘We asked ourselves, “How do we make the most of the situation we’re in? How do we use this still to give God the glory at Christmas?”’, Pastor Fin says. ‘It’s a big step of faith to go down this path. We know what we’ve lost, but now’s the time to find out what we’ve gained in the process, including those smaller connections which are a gift from God.’

‘One of the strengths of this is the relationship stuff’, agrees Music and Worship Coordinator Anna Klatt. ‘The outdoor service was an outreach event, where you can catch up a little bit, but it’s busy, so you can’t make any meaningful connections. But having it in people’s homes is a lot more intentional in terms of making connections. It also fits where we’re going as a congregation in terms of our discipleship culture.’

Christmas Eve hosts will be supported by receiving an intergenerational resource pack likely to include digital carols playlists, ideas around questions to discuss with guests, and activities and games for children.

Pastor Fin says leaders can also attend an earlier home gathering to ‘demystify’ the experience of hosting people for Christmas.

St Michael’s isn’t the only congregation which has needed to think creatively when it comes to Christmas worship or community outreach this year.

Further north in the Adelaide Hills, Lobethal Lutheran Church for the past 28 years has presented a ‘living nativity’ to the crowds which gather for the annual Lights of Lobethal Festival.

This year, with the festival cancelled, not only has the congregation had to call off the living nativity, but also an ecumenical carol service usually held in its church building as a prelude to the switching on of the lights to begin the festival.

Lobethal Pastoral Assistant Janet Le Page says that, with the people of Lobethal still being encouraged to light their houses as usual, the Living Nativity committee has been planning a static display for the church amphitheatre, including a stable and manger with signage explaining that, ‘God-willing we will return next year’ and that ‘Jesus is still the reason for the season’.

For the members of St Paul’s Box Hill, Victoria, who moved church buildings just as the pandemic took hold and were unable to worship face-to-face for around eight months, just the prospect of any face-to-face worship in their new home has them excitedly looking to Christmas.

If health regulations allow, they’ll have multiple small Christmas Eve services in the church and may use a combination of live and pre-recorded elements, as well as offering pre-recorded services on YouTube. Organ and Choral Music Coordinator Melissa Doecke also hopes to put together an intergenerational Christmas choir, with performances likely to be pre-recorded individually, then combined and included in worship.

Child & Family Ministry coordinator Keren Loffler says St Paul’s will also support more children, youth and families from the congregation this Advent through the take-home ‘Advent in a bag’, which contains Grow Ministries Growing Faith at Home resources and activities.

And, in terms of community outreach, they have taken inspiration from Melbourne’s lengthy time in lockdown, by creating a ‘Spoonville’ nativity for Advent. ‘Spoonvilles’ are communities of characters made out of decorated wooden spoons put into the ground in public places by passers-by. They sprang up around the Victorian capital this year, with people contributing during their permitted outdoor exercise time.

‘We’ve created a Spoonville nativity with the basic characters, with the idea being that the community can come and add spoons and we’ll be part of the Christmas story together’, Keren says. ‘And then we’ll have something like a QR code or link to the website on which we can show our Christmas story video or “Away in a Manger” virtual choir, so people can link in and see our service times.’

At St Petri Lutheran Church in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, the congregation usually hosts a gathering called ‘Christmas on the Green’ with nativity and carols in the town of Nuriootpa’s main street, which can’t go ahead. Child, Youth and Family Ministry Director Sharon Green says St Petri has decided to remodel its community outreach into ‘Christmas at the Mall’.

There will be a nativity scene set up outside the local shopping mall before Christmas, while musicians and singers will share carols, members will hand out 200 Christmas bags for children and families, and a group from the church will be dressed as nativity characters.

St Petri has also filmed its fifth online message this year for its local Messy Church community, with the latest featuring a skit posing the question ‘What is the true meaning of Christmas?’.

South of the Barossa Valley at Gawler Lutheran Church Christmas will sound a little different this year. An intergenerational ukulele group will provide a unique musical framework for the congregational Christmas play, ‘An Aussie Christmas’.

The group features 14 regular players, including four children under 10 and four over-60s with the remainder aged between 25 and 40, who all ‘appreciate the chance we have been given to praise God and help others to do so as well’.


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Church planter Nathan Hedt will be LCA/NZ’s next Pastor for New and Renewing Churches.

Pastor Nathan, who has served the Lakeside church plant at Pakenham in outer suburban Melbourne for the past six years, will take up the role early in 2021. He succeeds Rev Dr Noel Due, who is retiring after being in the position since January 2018 and having been a mentor to Pastor Nathan.

Pastor Nathan will remain based in Melbourne for his new post, which also includes managing the New and Renewing Churches Department of the LCA/NZ’s Local Mission office. While he will be sad to leave Pakenham, he believes God has been preparing him for the new challenge.

‘I think God’s been shaping me towards a role like this for a while’, he said. ‘The church-planting experience is really difficult but is also incredibly joyful and has been really good in shaping me towards this. My heart of an evangelist which wants people to hear and understand the good news for themselves is important in this. And I think also I have an ability to teach and to convey some of the excitement and the content about evangelism and church planting.’

LCA/NZ Executive Officer for Local Mission Dr Tania Nelson said she was excited to have Pastor Nathan join the team in a fulltime capacity.

‘I know God has been at work developing in Nathan the skills required for furthering and inspiring the church-planting movement in the LCA/NZ’, she said. ‘He comes to us with a heart for God’s mission, a good understanding of church planting in action, membership of the former interim Board for Local Mission and the current Committee for New and Renewing Churches and post-grad studies in mission.’

She also paid tribute to Pastor Noel’s service. ‘Noel has been an integral part of the growth in the LCA’s church-planting movement’, she said. ‘He has been a coach, trainer and pastor to many. We thank God for his pastoral care, his theological insights, his wise shepherding and wonderful contribution to local mission resources.’

Married to Yvette with three young adult daughters, Pastor Nathan was ordained as a pastor in the LCA in December 2003. He served Nambour parish on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast from 2004 to 2008, before becoming Pastor for Tertiary and Youth Ministry for the Victoria-Tasmania District from 2008 to 2014.

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Usually at this time of year, I would be busy helping members of my church family get ready to host an annual Advent community event for 120-plus people. Along with an invitation to worship with us at Christmas, these have often been advertised as fellowship, entertainment and a multi-course meal ‘with all the trimmings’.

December calendars for many are full of social, work, school, sporting, family and church commitments.

Pastors, lay workers and worship teams around our LCA/NZ would usually be looking forward to seeing their church buildings full to overflowing for Christmas services. Worship enhanced with beautiful Christmas trees, stars and decorations, carols, dramas or live nativities, big bands or specially convened choirs; home-baked goodies to give out; community events; donations of hampers and gifts for those in need, it’s all on the list for many congregations – in other years.

And there’s nothing wrong with that but, of course, this Christmas will be different for many. Some of our treasured traditions will not be possible. And just as long-suffering Victorians are daring to dream of a more ‘normal’ Christmas than they expected even a month ago, South Australians are getting their heads around a raft of returning restrictions designed to outmanoeuvre another COVID-19 outbreak even as I write.

The pandemic has left many people grieving, ill, financially ruined, anxious and depressed. But lives pared back by necessity have also forced us to re-order our priorities and to reassess our relationships with God and each other. There’s a saying I like that has seldom been more apt: When life brings you to your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray.

So when all the superficial shininess of Christmas is stripped away, we’re left with the ‘one thing needful’ – the Christ child, God with us, born to save a self-serving world. Rather than taking on all the stresses Martha endures in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to sit at his feet, like Mary, looking only into his compassionate eyes, hearing only his reassuring words, safe in his love.

This edition we look at Christmas without the trimmings – sometimes known as trappings for good reason – and share stories of congregations planning for new ways of worshipping and connecting with their communities. There are ideas and resources to help celebrate the birth of Christ differently, whether at church or home, and we reflect on the blessings of a simpler life at this time of year.

As this is the last edition for 2020, I would like to thank you, our readers, subscribers, group collectors and other ambassadors, for your loyalty and we look forward to your continued support. Please keep encouraging others to join us – a subscription makes a great Christmas gift! My gratitude also goes to our wonderful team, which brings you The Lutheran. Thank you to Linda Macqueen (executive editor), Elysia McEwen (graphic designer), our regular contributors Helen Beringen, Rebecka Colldunberg and Mark Hadley, proofreaders Lyall Kupke, Kathy Gaff and Pastor David Strelan, and Trevor Bailey and all at Openbook Howden.

Have a safe, joyful and blessed Christmas,

– Lisa

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Rev John Henderson

Bishop Lutheran Church of Australia

‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23,24 NRSV).

‘Pastor, you’ve only got popcorn sins!’

That’s what a wealthy businessman and church member told me as he spoke of the personal cost of keeping his company afloat. In order to operate he needed to obtain sensitive environmental permits, which had drawn him into immorality and high-level corruption in the industry sector and the state regulatory authority.

The situation and what it was doing to him was causing my friend grief. Before becoming a Christian he had played the game along with the worst of them. Now, as a follower of Jesus, he wanted a different life. He was facing some major choices about that. But how serious does sin have to be to be sin?

In our daily rounds of family, work and society, we generally grade wrongdoing from lesser to more serious. That’s where my friend’s comment came from. Deeds that don’t break the law are sort of okay, even if we don’t approve of them.

Lust, greed, avarice, slander, sexual immorality – up to the point of illegality our society doesn’t overly regulate such things. Before God, however, we know that’s not enough. Living within the law of the land does not make us righteous before God.

Recently, I was walking in the streets around my office. North Adelaide is a leafy and expensive suburb of period mansions and prestige apartments, well beyond the price range of your average pastor.

As I passed a For Sale sign, I had the involuntary thought, ‘I will never be able to afford a place like that, no matter how diligently and hard I work’. Was that thought a sin?

In the street that day I was surrounded by God’s beauty in creation. Trees were blossoming, birds were singing, the skies were blue and the grass green, and I felt safe and in good health. Jesus was my Saviour. Why, then, did I lust after something I did not have and did not need? Only because of sin, which always tries to make me dissatisfied with God’s good gifts. It’s insidious, subtle and evasive. Sometimes it’s obvious, but other times it sneaks up as a fleeting but persistent impulse. I may choose not to act on it, but at that moment an invisible barrier is thrown up between me and God.

God knows what we are like, on the inside and on the outside. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it too. God shows us in his word who we truly are. He holds up a mirror to us. And when we finally see the truth of who we are, it cuts through to the heart. We can only repent and throw ourselves onto the mercy of God, who loves us unceasingly, whatever our sin may be.

It is now Advent. Once again, we are getting ready for our Saviour. The colour is purple for repentance and the arrival of the Prince of Peace.

During Advent our true preparation will not be the decorations and purchasing of gifts, but the cleansing of our hearts through repentance and faith.

Popcorn sins or not, we must turn to Jesus, our only hope: born as a baby, one of us, to deal with the insidious problem of sin once and for all.

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The LCA/NZ’s Lutherans for Life (LFL) last month responded to the new ‘Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2020’ which has been before the South Australian parliament, with a public statement and call to action for the church.

Introduced into South Australia’s Legislative Council by Human Services Minister the Hon Michelle Lensink in October, it sought to remove abortion from SA’s criminal legislation, instead treating it as a health issue.

However, the LFL response says ‘the detail of the bill tells a different story’.

‘Currently in South Australia abortion is available until a maximum cut off of 28 weeks gestation with the agreement of two doctors, or after that to save the life of the mother’, LFL says. ‘This new bill allows for abortion on request until 22 weeks and 6 days, and after that if two doctors consider it “medically appropriate”. In this latter category no upper time limit is given, nor is the term “medically appropriate” defined … the extension of abortion effectively up until birth … will enable abortion of viable babies who would otherwise be capable of being born alive and living independently of their mothers.’

LFL, which is accountable to the church through the Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions, also called on all LCA/NZ members to pray and for those in South Australia to contact their local member of parliament about the bill.

‘We encourage all members of our Church to pray that our society is moved to the conviction that all life is sacred and so in need of protection’, the response says.

The full response is available from the Lutherans for Life website at

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by Libby Krahling

COVID-19 restrictions, regulations and precautions have meant many changes to our lives – including to the way we have worshipped as faith communities, families and individuals. We hope that whatever your situation, Advent and Christmas are times of great joy and thanksgiving as we again celebrate our unchanging, ever-loving God coming to us in human form. To follow are some ideas to help you and your congregation navigate these special times in 2020.

Advent ideas

Lutheran Tract Mission has a new downloadable Advent devotional booklet, as well as many excellent Advent and Christmas tracts and resources for all ages (see also page 16). Go to or phone 08 8360 7222.

Grow Ministries has a fantastic GIFT (Growing in Faith Together) pack for Advent (

More ideas and resources include:

  • Advent wreath – light a candle each Sunday of Advent. Instructions for creating the wreath and liturgy to accompany the candle-lighting can be found on the Worship Planning Page (WPP) via, click on the date then the Church@Home tab.

  • Jesse Tree – an interesting alternative which helps you remember God’s promises and the path leading to the birth of the Messiah. Instructions for creating a Jesse Tree and devotions are on the WPP.
  • Advent calendars – open a window each day to build excitement.
  • Advent paper chain – a fun, easy way for people in their homes, aged-care residences or schools to focus on the meaning of Advent and Christmas – while making the place look festive! Instructions are on the WPP or at
  • Growing Faith at Home sheets – Grow has made these excellent weekly devotion sheets available for free. They include discussion starters, daily readings, creative responses and ideas for service. Access these on the WPP through Advent and Christmas.

Spread the love!

Sharing the good news of God’s love is always vital. But this year especially sharing joy with people who are lonely or struggling due to isolation or illness is a great way to bless them and to lift your spirits too.

  • Put away the computer and write Christmas cards. During a year in which we have been separated more than usual, make someone’s Christmas by sending them words of encouragement in a hand-written card.
  • Donate food or toys as appropriate to your local community care organisation for those in need this Christmas. Contact your local LCA/NZ District office for suggestions on where to make donations.
  • Support ALWS Gifts of Grace and bring love to life for people from around the world, through a gift of school supplies, COVID-19 clinics, pigs and more, while blessing your friends and family, too. Go to for more information or phone 1300 763 407.

Public worship

If your congregation is struggling with limited numbers or social-distancing requirements due to COVID-19 restrictions, consider these options:

  • Offer a combination of live and online service options. You might record a Christmas service for people who can’t be there in person and have ‘live’ services for those who can attend.
  • Change service venues. Can you hold Christmas worship services in a park, school or community hall to allow for more people?
  • Pre-record elements of the service. If you are running multiple services, or want to have a children’s presentation, consider pre-recording parts of the service such as the music or nativity play. That way you can share the joy with multiple services or online without a lot of extra work. Recording in advance also makes Christmas week not so hectic.

Christmas plays

Christmas plays are a great chance to involve children and others in the service. With restrictions, staging the traditional play might be more difficult. Here are a few ideas to adapt this beautiful tradition:

  • Pre-record your play and share it during the service. If you are sharing it online, make sure participants and their families know how it will be shared. This might be a good option if you have limited space and need to have several services.
  • Consider a Christmas play on an internet conferencing system such as Zoom – have families/households act out different parts of the script. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to share the great news of Jesus’ birth! Scripts are available from the Christmas@Home section of the WPP.
  • Ask families to take photos or videos of themselves acting out different parts of the nativity story, and then use these to illustrate carols or readings during the service.
  • Rather than a play with multiple speaking roles, simplify things by using a narrator and having participants mime, so you don’t have to reuse microphones. Remember that people in the same household don’t have to physically distance, so perhaps have one household come up at a time.
  • Show a Christmas video – An Unexpected Christmas ( is a cute video from New Zealand and the church which produced it has given permission for public screenings (but not broadcasts).
  • Set up a nativity display outside and have a small devotional-style service so people can worship together in small groups or households. This could be a static display or incorporate scheduled times for a live nativity.


If you are unable to worship publicly this year or are separated from the people you love, you can still make this Christmas special.

  • Contact your local church and ask what they are doing for Christmas – they may have a way for you to worship with them.
  • Watch a service online. Congregations which will live-stream or pre-record Christmas services are listed on the WPP. If you live in Adelaide or Melbourne, you may be able to watch Lutheran services on TV.
  • Use the Church@Home resources for Christmas on the WPP. You will find:
  • a printable service order with a matching PowerPoint
  • links to YouTube online music video clips so you can sing along to the carols, hymns and songs for the day
  • printable Bible readings and prayers
  • links to a lessons and carols service on YouTube and digital music service Spotify
  • fun crafts and devotional activities to brighten your day and your home

Wherever you are this Christmas, we pray that you are filled with the joy and hope of the Messiah’s birth!

Libby Krahling is Administration Coordinator for the LCA’s Commission on Worship.

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The Lutheran has received three honours in the Australasian Religious Press Association (ARPA) awards.

Our churchwide magazine took out the gold award in the Best Feature Multiple Author category and a bronze award in the Best Headline category. The Lutheran was also highly commended in the Publication of the Year category, which was won by NZ Catholic newspaper. Also highly commended was Eternity news service and magazine, published by Bible Society of Australia, which took out ARPA’s premier annual honour, The Gutenberg Award. The Lutheran won The Gutenberg Award in 2011.

The Lutheran received its gold award for a feature package published in the December 2019 edition under the theme ‘A God of Second Chances’.

The judges said: ‘The vulnerability of these features demonstrates the high degree of trust the subjects of each story have in The Lutheran. These are stories of broken lives transformed by God’s love. The stories engage and move the readers, reminding us of our own brokenness and the power of a church in action at the coal face.

‘This feature is honest, vulnerable, raw and invitational’, they said. ‘God is alive today, intervening in individual lives, enabling people no matter what their past, to be reconciled and look to a new beginning.’ The judges congratulated editor Lisa McIntosh for framing the feature in her ‘wonderful opening letter’. The bronze award was received for Lisa’s clever headline ‘Taking hay while the sun shines’, which was published in March 2019 on a story about Lutheran farmers making hay runs to help others doing it tough during times of drought.

Linda Macqueen, LCA Communications Manager and former editor of The Lutheran, is delighted to see our church’s magazine continuing to thrive and serve the people of the LCA/NZ under Lisa’s editorship. ‘Lisa’s extensive talents and sheer hard work combine to create a gift of grace and excellence for our church every month’, Linda said. ‘It’s a huge accolade to win the top award in the hotly contested category of Feature Package. To also be one of only two magazines to be highly commended for Publication of Year is something we can all be proud of.’

ARPA is an ecumenical Christian communication network for Australian and New Zealand print and online publications and their editors, journalists, designers and contributors. It has a membership of more than 80 publications, as well as individual members and publication staff members.

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by Christine Matthias

Lockdown. The word brings to mind images of prison. And that’s what it must have seemed like for some people around Australia, New Zealand and the world. I have felt deeply for those required to stay home, isolated and without friends and family.

Here in South Australia, the lockdown wasn’t as severe or lengthy as in many places, but we have still had to adjust to changes in work, home and church life, and things are changing again now.

Yet, as we moved to online school and university for our three daughters and restrictions for travel and shopping, we realised as a family that we already live a fairly simple life.

All five of us love to cook, so we had more time to be creative in the kitchen. We love playing board games and watching movies. We have a large garden and enjoy spending time in it. We love walking and were grateful our restrictions allowed us to do that. And we spent many nights sitting around our ‘campfire’ sharing stories.

On the other hand, our struggles were cancelled flights for visiting or hosting family and friends, both interstate in Australia and the United States. Not knowing when we will be with family again is a cause of grief. We recognise the importance of the touch of loved ones and the true joy of hearing their voices.

As Christmas approaches, we enjoy saying we have an ‘occupational hazard’ when people ask what we’ll be doing. For reasons of faith and calling, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are always spent at church. We have to be creative in finding time to spend with each other, to open presents and to visit extended family.

But we also have formed simple yet cherished family Christmas traditions. Over the years our girls have re-told the nativity story, acting it out and using stuffed animals, dolls, toys, drawings, stop motion videos, a knitted nativity set and other figurines to relay the message of Jesus’ birth.

One Christmas we introduced a treasure hunt. The hunt is now an annual event which can take a whole day. One year, the first clue was a piece of music. So the girls tried playing cello, guitar, flute, violins and piano in an attempt to decipher it. But the notes were actually Morse code!

So rather than spending hours shopping, we put hours into planning clues to stump them. The hunt is now the gift.

Perhaps this Christmas, we will organise an online treasure hunt including extended family across the ocean and the states.

That’s the way of life for us now – it is not the ending, but the journey that matters. It is about spending time together.

So, while many things have changed this year, maybe our Christmas won’t be all that different. As always, we will enjoy the simple things we love to do together and, most importantly, celebrate the birth of our Saviour Jesus.

Christine Matthias and her family are members at Good Shepherd Para Vista, South Australia.

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by Nigel Rosenzweig

So 2020 did not run according to our plan and it looks as though our Christmas celebrations might be different from what we are used to, too.

In the past, the weeks leading up to Christmas have generally involved scripting, decorating, prop making and rehearsing in preparation for the biggest church gathering of the year. Every year I have looked forward to seeing children, youth and adults dress up as angels, shepherds and wise men to retell the Christmas narrative around the manger in the lowly stable.

Read Luke 2:1–20 and Matthew 1:18-2:12.

Share your favourite memories of Christmas Eve presentations over the years.

But what will Christmas be like in 2020? For many congregations, Christmas may feel a little different. We will still seek to creatively share the Christmas message but it might seem unfamiliar as we do so in a COVID-safe way.

Personally, I will be ‘between parishes’. This will be my first year in 24 years that I have not led a congregation at Christmas time. This gives me a rare opportunity to ‘unplug’ from all of the Christmas trimmings and ask myself, ‘So what does it mean that Jesus was born for me?’ The Gospels of Mark and John remove the trimmings for us and give us stripped-back presentations of Jesus’ birth.

Read Mark 1:1 and John 1:1–5, 9–14. What do you notice in these readings?

These Gospel accounts focus us on the one who is at the heart of our Christmas celebrations. When we remove all the trimmings of Christmas, the one who remains is Jesus who has made his dwelling with us. Jesus is God with us. And no social-distancing restrictions or COVID-safe planning can take his presence from us!

So why celebrate Christmas even if we do not have all the trimmings?

Go back and re-read Matthew 1:21.

Jesus came into the world to save his people from their sins. He came to redeem us from our sin. Into the mess that we make for ourselves, God sent Jesus. The promise of a Saviour is seen in many Old Testament passages.

Read Psalm 130. What is the gift that is ours because of our Lord Jesus, whose birth and presence we celebrate at Christmas?

We would like to think that we are able to live the perfect life on our own but we would be fooling ourselves to think so. The scriptures provide us with a mirror to show our need for a Saviour.

Read Romans 3:23,24. What do these verses reveal to you?

When all of the trimmings of Christmas are removed, we can see more clearly the gift God has for us.

Read Romans 5:1–21. What does this chapter teach you about God’s gift to us?


Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus. Help us to let go of the trimmings of Christmas, turn away from our sin and fix our eyes on your son Jesus who came and suffered to save us. Thank you for bringing us peace, forgiveness and eternal life with you through Jesus. Holy Spirit, continue to grow our character in these challenging times that we may live with hope. Amen.

Pastor Nigel Rosenzweig is concluding a termed call with both the LCA/NZ’s Grow Ministries Local Mission department and St John’s Lutheran Church Unley in suburban Adelaide. In 2021 he will take on a regular call as pastor at Victor Harbor, South Australia. 

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Going GREYT! 1 Peter 4:10

In Going GREYT! we feature stories of some of our ‘more experienced’ people within the LCA, who have been called to make a positive contribution in their retirement. We pray their examples of service will be an inspiration and encouragement to us all as we look to be Christ’s hands and feet wherever we are, with whatever gifts and opportunities we’ve been given. 

God’s creation is blooming marvellous

by Helen Beringen

When the first flush of spring and summer flowers bloom, who doesn’t want to stop and smell the roses?

So a rose garden planted lovingly as a heartwarming invitation to a church is surely going to be a welcoming sign, and an opportunity to witness to the beauty of God’s creation.

Enter Bethlehem Lutheran Church, in suburban Perth, nestled amongst a sea of houses in Morley. Four years ago, the large grassed block received a magnificent makeover. The natives shrouding the front of the church had grown straggly with age. But from the few rose bushes hidden in their midst, an idea grew to develop a rose garden.

Foundation members Ewald Schmidt, known as Wally, and his wife Ruth felt a push from Creation’s Chief Gardener to build the rose garden in a well-used thoroughfare to the local primary school and a beautiful local park.

’The church garden looked a bit sad and it brought tears to our eyes’, said Ruth.

‘And God said “don’t stand there, do something”’.

So despite professing no green thumbs, the retired couple aged 86 and 83 respectively, did just that.

‘We took it on bit by bit’, they recall. This work continued until the entire garden was renovated.

‘As we are not fenced off from our neighbourhood, not only is it a testament to all the beauty of God’s creation, it provides a lovely wider witness to caring for God’s creation and the joy God gives us through serving each other’, says Bethlehem’s Pastor Matt Bishop.

‘Moreover, on a late-October day when the roses are in their first full flush of the season, you can smell the delightful scents all around our block. Accordingly, we’ve had many positive comments from our neighbours, even from the local councillor.’

Who would have thought that a garden ministry could be created simply from proud perfumed stands of roses? From Double Delight to Cardinal and even Pope John Paul 2 varieties, the fragrant and sometimes cheeky choices now create a delightful and welcome experience for passers-by.

And with 66 years of marriage under their belts, the Schmidts are inseparable in their weekly toil – pruning, trimming, fertilising, watering and tidying.

‘We get an old pillow and kneel side by side – never too far from each other’, says Ruth. ‘We’re not good gardeners but we like to tidy up! And you’re never too old to learn.’

And they certainly feel like the Chief Gardener is with them, as they have learnt along the way how to care for the roses. ‘We are just presenting God’s creation’, says Ruth. ‘They are easy to manage and ever so beautiful.

‘When we come home, we are not tired, we feel great. We’ve been working in God’s creation.’

Powered by God’s blessing of good health and strong work ethic, they ‘trust and obey’, in the words of a favourite hymn, knowing God will be there to guide them.

‘It’s been a privilege to work in the church grounds’, says Ruth. ‘We don’t have a walking stick yet. We just use a rake and a broom.’

The couple met in January 1954, when both were working in the timber town of Bridgetown in southern Western Australia. Both were refugees from World War II – Ruth from Lithuania and Wally from Germany. It was a whirlwind romance and they were married by that August. They have been blessed with three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandson. They were Morley members since its inception and Wally was among the men presenting the ’sacred vessels’ at the dedication of the present church site in 1972, captured in full-page spreads in the 23 October 1972 edition of The Lutheran!

In September, the Bethlehem congregation honoured the Schmidts’ work with a little plaque in the rose garden, noting their loving nurture of the garden to the ‘Glory to God’.

As Pastor Matt reflects, keeping gardens looking good is not without challenges though, so it’s great that others are pitching in, such as long-term pastoral assistant John Zadow, who for decades has kept on top of all the mowing and edging. He’s also one of the Morley team which provides a breakfast ministry to a local school (featured in this column in 2018).

The humble service that keeps the flowers blooming is not only a blessing for the Morley community but also the gardeners.

Ruth and Wally reflect how the Lord has blessed them, echoed in their favourite Psalm 103.

‘It’s not about us, it’s God’s creation. We are just going along, not wasting our time. He looks after us and gives our health as we present God’s creations.’

Helen Beringen 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.

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