by Clare Seligmann

In the 20th century, medicine and improved public health measures in Australia were very successful in increasing life expectancy. However, this has changed the pattern of ageing and the pattern of dying.

Increased longevity has created a new population of people burdened with complex and chronic disease and ‘advanced frailty’. For this population, the traditional models of care, focusing on curative and life-prolonging treatments, without having concurrent goals of enhancing the quality of life for patients and their families, can contribute to unnecessary and prolonged suffering at the end of life, according to the Australian & New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine.

Many people find it hard to face the dependency, helplessness and discomfort that often accompanies ageing, chronic disease and impending death. They need increased support from family, carers, health practitioners and chaplains – and they need to be respected, cared for and loved as people created and loved by God.

The LCANZ, through aged care and other pastoral care ministries, has opportunities to serve people at the end of life in physical and psychological caring; and providing spiritual care to assist with a ‘good death’ for those in our care. That’s the ethos that underpins the service of many of our church’s care agencies, such as the Queensland District’s Lutheran Services.

Just as having a legal will plays a significant role in ‘getting our affairs in order’ before we die in terms of the material and financial, advanced-care planning has a very important function for other end-of-life considerations.

It is a journey with people and their families which includes starting the conversation about death; establishing the person’s priorities for their life and any goals that are outstanding; discussing values and beliefs and what will help quality of life; discussing specific details about treatments and symptom management; and documenting the conversation.

There are also legal documentation processes prepared in advance, that assist with decision-making if a dying person loses their decision-making capacity. In addition to a will, these include appointing an enduring power of attorney/s for health and finance matters and completing an advance health/care directive, depending on the jurisdiction across Australia and New Zealand.

A term we often refer to within end-of-life contexts is palliative care, which even applies to non-specialist care. It is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as: ‘ … an approach to care that improves the quality of life of patients (adults and children) and their families who are facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and correct assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, whether physical, psychosocial or spiritual. Palliative care also respects the choice of patients and helps their families to deal with practical issues, including coping with loss and grief throughout the illness and in case of bereavement.’

Appropriate palliative care is not confined to end-of-life care and can be provided in parallel with curative treatment, having different goals and focus. Palliative care is usually multidisciplinary and it is part of whole-person care that is not disease-specific and therefore can be complementary to curative treatment.

Again according to the WHO, when considered early in the course of the illness, palliative care not only improves the quality of life for patients, but also reduces unnecessary hospitalisations and the use of health services. Palliative care is never about withdrawing treatment or ‘doing nothing’. It requires as much work and expertise as curative treatment, but the goals are different. Access to palliative care is considered a human right by the WHO.

Specialist palliative care is only one component of palliative care service delivery. A sustainable, quality and accessible palliative care system needs to be integrated into primary health care, community and home-based care, as well as supporting care providers such as family and community volunteers.

Providing palliative care is legal, so long as the health professional intends to reduce or relieve a patient’s pain and suffering, not hasten their death. The majority of interventions given in end-of-life care by skilled health care teams neither hasten nor obstruct the person’s natural dying.

Care of the person and their family extends beyond death. Respectful treatment of a person’s remains and observance of cultural or religious practices need to be considered. Families also need to be cared for with appropriate time and space to grieve and follow up with bereavement counselling if this is wanted.

If end-of-life care is well managed, symptoms should be minimised and the transition from life on earth, through death to life in eternity, made as smooth as possible. In most cases, suffering at the end of life can be prevented or significantly reduced. It is often suffering and loss of control that people fear more than death.

The most controversial topic in the end-of-life area is euthanasia – the deliberate act of one person to end the life of another person to relieve that person’s suffering. Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a person requests a doctor to assist them in committing suicide. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently illegal in most Australian states and territories and may result in a person being charged with murder, manslaughter or assisting suicide. However, voluntary assisted dying has been legal in Victoria since 2019 and will become legal in Western Australia in the middle of this year. New Zealanders last year voted in a referendum to legalise euthanasia, with the new law expected to come into effect late this year.

The LCANZ’s Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions CSBQ has a statement on this subject ‘Euthanasia or Mercy Killing’, which rejects the practice in all its forms, ‘because such killing is contrary to the word and law of God’. Adopted by the General Convention of Synod in 1981, you can read this on the LCA website (www.lca.org.au/social-bioethical-questions – Papers adopted by General Synod). Lutherans for Life, which is accountable to the church through CSBQ and promotes the sanctity of life, also offers resources and information on end-of-life issues.

Rather than euthanasia, the church calls for greater efforts to improve and extend palliative care and other measures to reduce suffering in our society. Such measures have demonstrated productive outcomes in the management of pain and the care of those at the end of their earthly life.

Dr Clare Seligmann is a General Practitioner with a particular interest and expertise in aged care and palliative care and a member of the LCANZ’s Committee for Ministry with the Ageing. She is the GP representative on the Queensland Health Department’s Frail Older Persons Collaborative. She served as chairperson of the LCANZ Queensland District’s Lutheran Services council from 2009 to 2019. She is a member of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the AMA and the Australian & New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine. She worships at St Peters Indooroopilly in suburban Brisbane.

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Rev Dr Michael Lockwood has answered the call to serve as a missionary with the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP), a partner church of the LCANZ through LCA International Mission.

Dr Lockwood will take up teaching duties at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Baguio in July. His move is in response to a request last year from LCP President Rev Antonio Reyes to LCA International Mission for assistance with the training of pastors and deaconesses for his church.

The LCP seminary had been in desperate need of additional support, said the LCANZ’s Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission, Pastor Matt Anker. However, LCA International Mission was not in a position to respond to this request alone. ‘With few options locally, God provided the way’, Pastor Matt said of a funding partnership with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

The LCANZ’s General Church Board called Dr Lockwood to the role, which he accepted and, together with his wife, Naomi, and children, Asher and Jadon, is preparing for the move. ‘I am very excited about this opportunity to be part of what God is doing in the Philippines and within the region, and to be able to play a part in equipping pastors and church workers with a deep understanding of God’s word and the good news of Jesus Christ’, Dr Lockwood, pictured, said.

LCANZ Bishop John Henderson wholeheartedly endorsed the new partnership. ‘I see the call to Dr Lockwood to serve among our fellow Lutherans in the LCP and our region as a significant moment for the LCANZ’s participation in the mission of God’, he said.

 

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by Helen Beringen

Being called a ‘Ham’ may not be too flattering for most people, but for Western Australian retiree John Stephens it is a badge of honour.

That’s because the 85-year-old has been a ‘Ham’ for most of his life – an amateur radio operator that is.

What started with childhood tinkering with crystal radio sets has progressed into his Christian witness through a community radio station in Albany, Western Australia.

This labour of love includes rising at 4.30am every Sunday to host the Christian Breakfast show on Albany’s Great Southern FM radio station, which he has led for 20 years. He also started a Bakelite Radio show on Thursday afternoons, which features music from the 1920s through to the 1950s.

It was during the days of Bakelite radios, which were the first commonly used moulded plastic radios of the 20th century, that John discovered his love for radio.

John’s talents were directed into Christian radio early in life, through his local church in suburban Perth.

‘As a young child of four years of age, I was taken to the Church of Christ Sunday school at Maylands by two young girls who were neighbours and lived across the road from my parents’, John says.

It was through the church that John became involved in Christian radio.

‘Churches of Christ had a Christian radio Sunday school operating out of one of the commercial radio stations in Perth and country stations in Northam’, John says.

‘This was a live program with young people representing several of the local churches attending the studio and singing on each Sunday morning.’

While at high school, John’s love for the technical elements of broadcasting led him to the technical production of radio, through work experience as a control room operator.

This led to an apprenticeship in electrical engineering after completing high school, culminating in a 38-year career in technical education.

‘I was also encouraged by one of the members of our Maylands Church who had been a radio operator in the navy during WWII to study for AOCP, which is the Amateur Operator Certification, commonly referred to as a “Ham’s licence”. This means you can operate your own radio station on shortwave and talk to other “Hams” around the world’, John says.

‘I was successful in achieving a call sign, VK6KJS, and became an active SWL – shortwave listener. This enabled me to listen to Christian broadcasting stations around the world. I still maintain that call sign today!’ That guided John along another volunteering pathway – the Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC). FEBC is a global media ministry spreading the gospel to inspire people to follow Jesus Christ, broadcasting in more than 50 countries in 30 different languages.

Since retiring in 2000, John has continued that Christian witness at the crack of dawn each Sunday, with his own 6am to 9am Christian program on Great Southern FM (100.9 FM), which broadcasts to the southern area of Western Australia.

John’s grateful for the support of Christian groups such as the LCANZ’s Lutheran Media, which supplies its Messages of hope outreach ministry’s radio spots he shares with listeners, along with Christian hymns and songs.

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.

 Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor lisa.mcintosh@lca.org.au

 

Messages of hope

Lutheran Media’s Messages of hope radio programs are broadcast by more than 800 commercial, community and Christian stations around Australia and New Zealand, as well as into Papua New Guinea and Asia, the latter via shortwave.

For more information, go to www.messagesofhope.org.au or www.messagesofhope.org.nz  

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Christian meditation is an ancient practice dating back thousands of years, to the first days of the church. And it was part of the tradition of those of the Jewish faith long before that. There are many biblical references to meditation, from Genesis through the New Testament, with many specific mentions in the Psalms.

In fact in Psalm 1, God’s people are urged to meditate on his word – on his law – ‘day and night’.

Martin Luther, too, practised, taught and wrote on meditation. He reformed and simplified the medieval monastic model as he did so, according to LCA Pastor Tim Jarick, in his paper ‘Mysticism, Monks and Marty: Meditation in the Lutheran tradition’.

Pastor Tim, Chaplain at Pacific Lutheran College at Caloundra in Queensland, explains that Luther put praying to God for guidance first before reading the Scriptures in his model and made the cross of Christ central to the Lutheran tradition of meditation.

And yet, as Lutherans in Australia and New Zealand, many of us have grown without much knowledge of what Christian meditation is and how and why it is an important, even central, element of our faith journeys.

Indeed, until recent times, many modern Christians have shied away from the practice, says Lutheran Pastor Stephen Abraham. Pastor Stephen, who was already teaching Christian meditation when a spinal injury left him with permanent debilitating and chronic pain and forced his retirement from full-time ministry in his early 30s, uses meditation whenever his pain is severe.

He has developed his own style of Christian meditation over three decades, which draws on a range of influences including the Desert Fathers (early Christian hermits, ascetics and monks, who lived in the Egyptian desert from the 3rd century); Roman Catholic priest, Benedictine monk and spiritual writer John Main; the French ecumenical monastic fraternity Taizé, Martin Luther and, of course, the meditations present in the Bible.

Pastor Stephen says that in other religions meditation is about ‘controlling your mind’ or ‘mindlessly losing yourself’, whereas, in Christianity, it is about ‘giving your thoughts to God’ and ‘giving him control of your thinking’. ‘It is letting your mind-space be governed by God’s word so that the Holy Spirit can direct your daily life’, he says.

‘Meditation is something all humans share: a relaxed focus, a tool to calm mind and body, a place of solace in a busy world.

‘Muslims pray, but we as Christians aren’t afraid to pray or use Christian prayer in our daily life just because Muslims pray. Hindus sing, but we don’t write off all singing us “un-Christian” or an evil practice. Likewise, Buddhists meditate, but for 3000 or more years meditation has been part of the Judeo/Christian experience, even if modern Christians have shied away from it.

‘Just as Christian prayers and music are uniquely Christian, Christian meditation flows from our encounter with the Trinity as revealed in the Bible. In practice, it is a place where the Holy Spirit can guide our reflection as we focus on God’s word.’

Pastor Anthony Price, who serves the worshipping communities of Gawler Lutheran Church north of Adelaide and is accredited as a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader, teaches Christian meditation and offers spiritual direction. He believes there are several reasons why meditation may have become a ‘lost’ practice in the Lutheran church.

‘Firstly, maybe that’s to do with the New Age movement and that people have a perception that it’s a bit weird’, he says. ‘That’s the unhealthy forms of meditation that take us off of the word, and Jesus and the Triune God.

‘I also think there’s a fear of the unknown – people just don’t know about it.

‘And I have to think about my role as a church leader. If I wasn’t really experiencing it myself, I wouldn’t have been teaching it. So while we as pastors may have learnt about it, if we haven’t experienced it in a life-transforming way, we may not have taken on board the centrality of meditation. And Luther is a fine example, who tells us and teaches us how important it is for us.’

Kathy Worthing, a member of the World Community for Christian Meditation state executive for South Australia and leader of a Christian meditation group, believes this contemplative ministry form is having a revival among everyday Christians – including in the LCA/NZ.

‘Recent spiritual writers such as John Main, Laurence Freeman, Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr have been at the forefront of the resurgence in the practice of Christian meditation, taking it beyond the monastery walls and into the lives of everyday Christians’, she says. ‘As Laurence Freeman said in A Pearl of Great Price, “Our world sorely needs the silent infrastructure of contemplation woven into the institutions and frenetic schedules. It needs the healing and transforming power that only the spirit can set free in us and among us”.’

Pastor Anthony, who had a life-changing experience through attending a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius in 2009 says he came to realise that it’s an important element of our faith-life to have a heart – or experiential – connection with Scripture, as well as a head – or intellectual – one.

He took a year out of parish ministry in 2012 to complete a Master’s degree in Spiritual Direction with the University of Divinity. He has led retreats using his Lutheran adaptation of The Ignatian Exercises, a retreat program written by Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish Christian layman at the time who would later become the founder of the Jesuits. The program features Christian meditations centred on the Scriptures, the gospels and various prayers.

He believes the main benefit of Christian meditation ‘is to experience Christ himself’. ‘He says, “I am with you always”, so it enables us to experience him and his love and helps us to grow in faith, to grow in hope, to grow in love – real love in action as we join Jesus in his mission’, Pastor Anthony says.

‘The word meditation literally means “to chew on”, so it belongs to all of us as human beings. Jesus says, “Do not worry”, and worry is a form of meditation; it’s something that we ruminate again and again. So we all naturally meditate, but in terms of Christian meditation, the all-important aspect is, “Where’s the emphasis? What’s the content that we’re meditating on?”

‘For us as Christians, it’s the God that we believe in, the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, and where we experience him most centrally is in Scripture, through God’s word.’

Pastor Stephen has written a Christian meditation program with the hope of making the practice easy for time-poor people. For a copy, you can email him at stephen.abraham@lca.org.au

He also has produced YouTube meditation videos, which can be watched and heard at www.youtube.com/c/StephenAbrahamMusic/videos and songs on online social audio platform SoundCloud, which are available for free at https://soundcloud.com/stephenabraham/sets/breathing-scripture/s-pv895

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Members of the LCA/NZ are being urged to pray for peace in Myanmar, where the military staged a coup d’etat and took control of the country last month.

Following an overwhelming victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in elections held last November, the military disputed the result, detained elected leaders including Ms Suu Kyi, and instigated a 12-month state of emergency.

LCA International Mission works closely with four churches in Myanmar through the Federation of Lutheran Churches in Myanmar and Pastor Matt Anker, LCA Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission, has invited Australian and New Zealand Lutherans to join in praying for a ‘peaceful resolution’ to the unrest in the South-East Asian nation.

‘Please join us as we pray for a peaceful resolution to this latest unrest in Myanmar, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ as they live in times of increased uncertainty and insecurity’, Pastor Matt said. ‘May our Heavenly Father send his holy angels to watch over the churches of Myanmar and the entire country and use this moment as an opportunity for the gospel of forgiveness, life and salvation to be proclaimed even more widely in this troubled country.’

Pastor Matt said one of Myanmar’s church leaders shared with him details of the situation there recently, including the public demonstrations which began in response to the coup.

The church leader, who asked not to be named, said: ‘This public demonstration is not about favouring [the] NLD party which recently won the election. It’s about the people who don’t want to go back to our nightmares under military regime. Many Christian churches, organisations and local NGOs [have issued] statements opposing this military coup. And Christians are not fearing at this time of need [to] stand up for the truth and welfare for the people of Myanmar.’

He said: ‘Please continue to pray for the people of Myanmar as we have peaceful demonstrations around the country.’

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#youngSAVEDfree

In this column we hear from young people in our church about the ministries and mission they are part of – and how we in the LCA can better engage with youth in our communities.

At her home church in suburban Adelaide, Josephine Matthias serves confirmation students as the program’s games and activities coordinator and a small group leader. This experience in supporting young people in her congregation led the 18-year-old chemical engineering student to participate in a global conference of young Lutherans passionate about youth work and sustainability.

by Josephine Matthias

Last year I had the incredible opportunity to represent the LCA/NZ in the international ‘Like a Tree’ conference run by Mission EineWelt, the partnership, development and mission arm of Germany’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.

The conference involved young Lutherans from around the world who are leaders in youth ministry and interested in sustainability. The conference theme was a reference to Christians being like trees, standing together in God’s forest.

We were all created to look after God’s creation and called to share the word of God with others and support them in their growth as Christians. During the nine days of the conference, we talked about our calling as Christians through the topics of sustainability and youth work.

The conference was meant to be held in Germany, but due to COVID travel restrictions, it was staged online via seminars and a website.

Before the conference began, we each had the task of creating a video introducing ourselves and our involvement in youth ministry. These helped us to get to know each other, as did the 24-hour challenges we were given throughout the conference. For one challenge, we had to find a song about sustainability, so I wrote an original composition called ‘Save the World’. Another challenge was to write a poem. We began the conference with an online church service where I read the opening liturgical sentences in English after they were heard in Portuguese and Hungarian. For the concluding online service, we each had to bring something green to hold up for a screenshot ‘photo’ to make a ‘forest’ of humans. We talked about how the word of God is the rain which helps us to grow.

Our other main topic was sustainability and we looked at the United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Development Goals.

Our final topic was youth ministry around the world, with each region sharing about the ministry in their churches.

It was so refreshing to meet other young Lutherans who are passionate about their faith, and active in their churches. We have remained in contact and continue to share ideas for youth activities.

Josephine Matthias is a member of Good Shepherd Para Vista in South Australia.

 

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by Jonathan Krause

I learnt my first big fundraising lesson in the dusty warehouse of a noisy printing factory in an industrial suburb south of Melbourne.

It was 1986. I had hair down to my waist. And I had the stupidest job in the world – writing poems for greeting cards. It seems I was the only person in the southern hemisphere with this job, which led New Idea to do a feature about it, and Gold Logie winner Ernie Sigley to invite me on to breakfast TV so he could crack jokes at my expense.

Each week I would be assigned 50 greeting cards to write poems for. Thinking I already knew everything, I set out to change the world of greeting cards forever by vowing never to write a rhyming poem. No love/glove/dove for me … which is when my boss beckoned me to follow her into the warehouse.

She pointed to a pallet of boxes of greeting cards – returned greeting cards from shops that couldn’t sell them. She said: ‘Jonathan, it’s not about you or what you want to write. It’s about what people want to buy.’

Fundraising is all about what you want to do for others.

So, my fundraising job at Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) is straightforward. I simply introduce you to people who need your help, support them to tell you what you can do to help and then leave you to decide what action you will take.

Of course, I try to present people’s story as clearly as I can. And I look for exciting ways you can act, such as Gifts of Grace, the GRACE Project, Walk My Way.

Of course, I respect you enough to be frank with you. Show you the urgency. Explain the challenges. Tell you what it costs.

Then, ask unashamedly for your help.

That’s Fundraising 101 – but really it’s one-to-one.

My dad sometimes grumbles that he gets too many letters from charities. Other people ask not to receive letters, so they can save money for the charity and help lower ‘overheads’. I understand those feelings, especially when you help people (and animals) through multiple charities.

However, in fundraising, we know that unless you talk to people at least every couple of months, they can forget about you, donations drop off, fewer people are helped, and ‘overheads’ actually go up.

So, my job in fundraising is to balance the ‘smell-of-an-oily-rag’ approach – over a five-year average ALWS ‘overheads’ are less than 15 per cent – with doing what my 30 years of experience have shown me to be the most effective, efficient way to raise money to help people.

I’ve been blessed to be able to teach fundraising around the world – the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand and even to 500 hospital administrators in the middle of China!

What I’ve found in all those places is that people always give from their heart. Someone’s need touches them, and they are moved to help.

You cannot educate people into giving by teaching lots of facts or statistics to persuade them. It doesn’t work, because the ‘head’ is not strong enough to overturn a decision made in the heart.

The only time fundraising should be about educating, is when we try to show you the most effective way for you to help others.

There’s another ‘Boss’ who has taught me about fundraising – Jesus.

Ever since I was on the Student Representative Council organising ‘Rice Days’ at Luther College in 1976, I’ve been driven by the words of Matthew 25:34–40. This is the story of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus talks about his people feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, visiting the sick … and pointing out that when you and I do this for someone overlooked, ignored or forgotten, we are doing it for him.

What’s interesting is what Jesus teaches directly before that, in Matthew 25:14–30. Here, he tells the story of the Master giving his servants ‘talents’ – or in modern translations money – different amounts according to the servants’ different abilities.

Each day I must ask myself which servant I am. It’s a question we as the Lutheran Church need to ask each day too.

As a fundraiser, I (and ALWS) try to be the bold, hard-working servant of verses 14–30 – inspiring you with ideas, being efficient with your donations, helping you have as big an impact as you can with the gifts God has given you … to bless others as we follow Jesus as the sheep of verses 34–40, feeding the hungry, giving water to those are thirsty, caring for the homeless and sick.

For me, fundraising is a critical part of this ministry.

I thank God I have been given the opportunity to serve this way and been blessed to see the transformation in people’s lives as we work – and raise funds – together to bring love to life. What a joy!

Jonathan Krause is ALWS Community Action Manager.

 

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Despite a COVID-19 lockdown forcing a last-minute change of plans, Stanley Roberts was ordained in unique circumstances as a Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) at Papunya in the Northern Territory late last year.

LCA/NZ Bishop John Henderson had planned to conduct the ordination on 22 November at the Indigenous community 240 kilometres west of Alice Springs, but a snap lockdown announced in South Australia a few days earlier prevented him leaving Adelaide.

However, local leaders decided to proceed, with Finke River Mission (FRM) fieldworker Pastor Paul Traeger ordaining and installing Stanley to his new roles. Pastor Stanley will serve as SMP for Papunya and the Pintupi-Luritja language area. It is believed to be the first time in the LCA that an SMP has ordained another SMP. More than 200 people attended the service held at the local school basketball court due to the church having been damaged by a fire. After a procession of pastors and evangelists, Papunya Pastor Graham Poulson opened the service, conducted a baptism and preached, while Pastor Stanley led the communion liturgy after his ordination.

Pastor Stanley, 45, is the son of the late Pastor Murphy Roberts, who 38 years ago became one of the first Pintupi-Luritja pastors ordained. While his father did not live to see Stanley ordained, one relative who did was a local pastor, who sadly died suddenly just four days later. Pastor Stanley said later: ‘He must have been waiting for me’.

Pastor Stanley was also presented with the late Pastor Max Stollznow’s robe. Pastor Max was serving as FRM Support Worker and pastor at Papunya when Murphy Roberts was ordained.

A former community night patrol worker, Pastor Stanley finished that role in 2019 to concentrate on ministry duties, having completed the FRM pastors’ curriculum. He is married to Sheila and has four children.

– reporting by Pastor Paul Traeger

 

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by Helen Beringen

Who would have thought the once-popular children’s pastime of stamp collecting was still alive?

Well, not only is stamp collecting still going strong, but it continues to make a world of difference to communities around the globe through the Lutheran Church of Australia’s (LCA) Stamps for Mission program.

Since its inception more than 80 years ago, almost $446,000 has been raised for mission causes, says Peter Nitschke, Stamps for Mission national project director.

The process of collecting, cleaning and sorting stamps has been an activity in many Lutheran youth groups across the country for decades. Funnily enough, it is often still those same people who are helping to keep the program going today.

‘It was still a youth activity as late as 2006 and we realised the youth who were involved in stamps for mission were now in their 80s and 90s’, says Peter, a retired teacher.

‘There would have to have been literally hundreds of people involved from all around the country. Even the youth at Lameroo [in South Australia] are still cleaning stamps and there would be many more congregations still collecting them.’

Stamps for Mission, a fundraising arm of LCA International Mission, was established in 1938 through the efforts of Pastor Ted Koch and Mr Ern Unger, who spent 65 years collecting stamps and building a national team of helpers.

Peter began following Ern’s footsteps after a chance meeting in Parkes in 2003 when Peter and his wife Margaret were travelling back to South Australia after living in Queensland for 15 years.

Peter had been an avid stamp collector since the age of seven when his aunt gave him stamps and an album for his birthday. As a carer to Margaret, who was ill with multiple myeloma, it was a job with the flexible hours that Peter felt he could help with.

‘It was something I could do any time day or night while caring for my wife’, he recalls.

And so began almost two decades of support for an industrious team which gathers, cleans and sorts stamps.

While millions of stamps go through Peter’s hands each year, occasionally he finds a high-value gem, such as a post-marked envelope worth $2500.

‘Anything philatelic is saleable’, says Peter. ‘Whether it is mint stamps, used stamps, or stamps from overseas.’

The stamps are boxed up and sold to local collectors and larger philatelic businesses. An A4 paper box of stamps can be worth between $300 and $1100, depending on the stamps.

With all this work, you’d think Peter would be dreaming of stamps. He doesn’t – but knows clearly what good they can do.

Peter has seen firsthand the world of difference the funds raised from Stamps for Mission have made through a 10-day trip to Papua New Guinea in 2018. The trip included a visit to the Lutheran Highlands Seminary at Ogelbeng, near Mount Hagen, where seminary students grow food to support themselves while studying.

‘When you see the limited resources these people have and yet you see their love for Christ and wanting to serve him, it is mind-blowing’, Peter says.

‘We saw where they live, and their commitment, and boy it made me determined to continue our work … it’s made a lasting impression on me. If we can support them in small ways, they can do great things with it.’

The seminary is one of six $2000 projects Stamps for Missions provides to each year.

‘When I think what an Australian dollar does in places like these, we get eight to 10 times the value’, he says. ‘To me, these people have very little but they still have a real heart for the Lord, and that’s what motivates me. It’s about God’s love for us and what he has done for us.’

That is reflected in one of Peter’s favourite Bible verses, John 1:14: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’

Thankfully, Peter says there are no signs of stamp collecting dying out, with annual fundraising levels remaining consistent. And finding helpers became even easier during a year of COVID lockdowns!

‘When COVID first hit, I had three people come and ask for stamps as they didn’t know what they were going to do during lockdown’, he says. ‘I think we’ll be going for a long time yet, and while the post office keeps issuing more stamps year by year, we’ll carry on.’

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.

Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor lisa.mcintosh@lca.org.au

 

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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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