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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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.’

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.

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

When Matt Schubert became mission facilitator/church planter at Rockingham Mandurah Lutheran Church (RMLC) in Western Australia earlier this year, he didn’t know what God had in store for him and the congregation’s outreach ministries beyond 2020.

RMLC, which worships across two sites south of Perth, began a church-planting journey more than four years ago, praying for guidance. In following God’s lead, they committed to support a mission facilitator position for three years and to plant a new church. But, as a relatively small congregation, they knew they wouldn’t be able to source all the necessary money from within their immediate community.

Chairperson Monika Tropiano admits to ‘some anxiety’ – in addition to quiet prayer and contemplation – over how RMLC would raise the $250,000 they needed to make the outreach ministry sustainable.

Meanwhile, the 16-member Redeemer congregation at Nairne in the Adelaide Hills – more than 2700 kilometres from RMLC – had been planning to support a church plant in northern Adelaide with some of the proceeds of a 2006 land sale. But that South Australian church plant didn’t materialise and so, when the Redeemer members learnt of the need at RMLC, they donated $50,000 to the Western Australian church. Matt and the leaders of RMLC were thrilled by God’s goodness. ‘This gift towards our church-planting endeavour in WA is an incredible example of Christian maturity’, Matt says. ‘The question that these people asked was not “What’s best for us?”. They instead asked, “What’s best for God’s mission?”.

‘The nature of any missionary work – church planting included – is that I spend a lot of my time with people who don’t initially value gospel ministry. In a very real sense, the Nairne congregation are standing in the gap for not-yet-Christians, placing value on a ministry the unconverted don’t yet value, supporting a church which is yet to exist.’

In response to the gift, RMLC Pastor Steve Liersch says, ’If it were not COVID times, I would have hugged anyone I saw. Praise God! Prayers have truly been answered. This reflects that God is up to something within our church and the wider LCA. Only he could have orchestrated such an amazing and inspiring gift.

‘I hope that Matt’s next few years here will not only bear fruit with people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, but also in that process the Holy Spirit will use him to inspire others to be involved. We have already had adult baptisms as a result of Matt’s ministry and this will hopefully show even more how everyday people, conversations and opportunities can be used by God for eternal blessings and current inspiration for his church.’

This is the latest chapter in another story of God’s faithfulness in bringing good out of disappointments or hard times. When the Redeemer congregation was given a parcel of land by John and Maureen Nitschke in the late 1980s, they intended to build a church. Established 33 years ago, the congregation has never had its own worship centre, instead holding services in the local Uniting Church building.

But when the land was deemed unsuitable by the local council due to parking requirements, Redeemer members were led by the Holy Spirit to turn their disappointment into blessings for others. They aimed to support a church plant in the Adelaide Hills, but plans for possible developments in their local area stalled, according to Nairne chairperson Michael Gladigau and other members.

‘We wanted to be good stewards of the gifts we were custodians to’, they say. ‘The Holy Spirit moved us to investigate looking into giving some of this money to (the LCA’s) New and Renewing Churches. God is always leading us and answering prayers, as he knows best. We need to trust him. Our vision is limited. God is omniscient.’

What they learnt regarding church planting, together with prayerful consideration on how the funds would be used for furthering the planting of God’s word, led them to first make a gift of $50,000 to a church plant in south-east Queensland in 2018. At that time the recipients – LCA/NZ church planter Chris Podlich and the young leaders of Beyond Church in northern Brisbane – believed God was calling them to move.

Approximately 2000 kilometres from Nairne, Beyond had been planted out of Living Faith Lutheran Church at Murrumba Downs in 2015. Now it was time to step out in faith into the heart of the unchurched community they had been preparing to serve. But, Chris says, they didn’t know where they would establish a new base or how they would fund setting up their own church facilities. Within a 48-hour period, God had shown them the ‘how’ and the ‘where’, with Nairne committing its financial gift and a local state school agreeing to welcome them into their campus at Griffin.

The move has enabled Beyond to establish its distinct presence as ‘a church that unchurched people love to attend’. It has grown from one service to two; one small group to nine; one youth environment to three; one team of eight leaders to multiple teams that have more than 50 leaders in them; and service projects that began with 10 people serving having grown to involve more than 30 people in them.

As with Rockingham-Mandurah, before COVID-19 adult baptisms had become a regular feature of life and ministry at Beyond.

Chris has met with members of the Nairne congregation when he’s had the chance and says the two donations they have made to Beyond have brought much more than financial benefit.

‘It’s something that I’ve personally drawn on and I know our leadership team has drawn on as an encouragement when things get hard,’ he says. ‘When you ask, “Is this worth it?” and you look back on those times, you think, “Well, God clearly thinks it’s worth it”. God’s been moving in people’s hearts. Clearly God’s behind this. These gifts change lives.’

Another example of the life-changing power of local mission through church planting is occurring in Epping, a north-western suburb of Sydney, around 1300 kilometres from Nairne. In 2019, Redeemer provided seed money towards staff for a multi-ethnic church plant out of LifeWay Lutheran Church. Lead Pastor Mark Schultz says the gift was an ‘incredible encouragement’ and an answer to prayer as LifeWay wrestled with how to do mission and ministry in a changing community, with 59 per cent of people speaking a language other than English at home and a third of the suburb being recent arrivals.

‘It enabled us to get into the local schools and work with young people as they straddle multiple cultures, and employ Mandarin and Cantonese speakers to be bridge-builders between cultures’, Pastor Mark says. ‘Walking in mission is a constant journey of trust; it’s easy to hold back because we fear a lack of resources, but reminders like this draw us back to a faithful God, in whom we lack no good thing.’

LifeWay has now embarked on another step of faith. In conjunction with the NSW District, it has just employed a church planter, Danny Brock, to plant LifeWay Westside, a greenfields multi-ethnic church near the new International airport in Western Sydney.

Michael and the Redeemer folk say hearing the grateful responses from people who have received the gifts gives them ‘a feeling of joy and thankfulness that we are able to help others through the blessings we have received’.

‘We are reminded of the wonderful miracle that Jesus performed when feeding the multitudes with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread’, they say. ‘This one block of land is enabling multitudes to know of God’s love for them. We hope that God’s word will be proclaimed to as many people as possible and people will be led to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.’

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The General Church Board (GCB) has approved moves to improve the ‘efficiency and transparency’ of the LCA/NZ’s call process.

Following a decision by the 2015 General Convention of Synod, the then General Church Council (now GCB) commissioned an investigation into the LCA call process in order to hear from congregations about their views and expectations of the process and to identify ways the system could be improved.

The report ‘A Review of the Call Process of the Lutheran Church of Australia’ was completed in July 2018. GCB now has responded to the report, including approving actions designed in collaboration with the College of Bishops (CoB) to improve the process.

The general conclusions of the report were that:

  • The call process was under stress
  • Parishes believed the process was inadequate, but could be improved, rather than replaced
  • Bishops and directors of mission generally reported satisfaction with the current call process, but indicated that it could be improved
  • The call process of the LCA already allows for a variety of practices, but that neither parishes nor bishops and directors of mission are aware of the full range of variants available, and
  • Expectation management is important for the call process to function well and for the reduction of levels of mistrust and frustration.

The LCA/NZ’s Secretary of the Church, Dr Nigel Long, said the review made a number of recommendations, though overall it found that the system did ‘not require significant structural change’.

‘However, it did identify that there is frustration about the system and a process that can be disheartening for some calling bodies’, he said. ‘As a result, the review also identified scope for improvement in the efficiency and transparency of the process.

‘GCB has received the report, considered its recommendations and approved a series of actions to implement them. These actions were developed in consultation with the College of Bishops. Some of them are already under development; for example, Church Worker Support is working on a framework for annual vocational reviews of pastors.’

Dr Long said the actions were focused on supporting both calling bodies and pastors to:

  • improve trust in the call process
  • increase the chances of a good calling body/pastor fit
  • improve the understanding of how the call process works, and
  • ensure greater professionalism, and overall efficiency and transparency in the system.

He said the approved actions could be ‘implemented through policy, operational processes and provision of resources to support all participants in the call system’. They would not require a synodical decision.

GCB’s response to the recommendations of the review report is available online through the LCA website here.

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by Helen Beringen

Picture a bush picnic in breathtaking country at the foot of the Grampians mountain range in the Wimmera region of Victoria. But add to that the crunch of frost of midwinter early mornings and the challenge of chopping firewood before you can take a sip from the thermos and unwrap the sandwiches.

This is a regular winter pastime for a handful of hardy members of St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Stawell, a historic Victorian goldrush town.

Members of this woodchopping team, predominantly aged over 70, chop and sell firewood throughout the chilly winter months from May to September to help keep their 26-member strong congregation running, says congregational chairman and one of the team organisers John Simpkin.

On weekends they receive very welcome help from a couple of younger members, including John’s grandsons, Alex, 10, and Jamie, 8, who help with the loading and unloading of the big trailers. The fundraising scheme also literally brings warmth to the town, offering a great service to many community members, particularly older town residents reliant on wood heaters. And yes, temperatures can drop below zero in that part of the world!

But this country with its rolling, tree-studded hills is beautiful, and great for woodchoppers, thanks also to friendly farmers with fallen timber to spare, says John.

Since 2014 woodcutting has become a major fundraiser for the fellowship, which also supports chaplaincy programs at three local schools.

John, 76, and his team are experienced and well equipped with protective gear, chainsaws and wood splitters.

John’s wife of 53 years, Lorraine, 75, is the fellowship treasurer. Lorraine takes the orders which determine whether the band of woodchoppers sets out twice a week or once a fortnight, depending on demand.

They’ve been invited to collect wood at several properties, including one owned by a local Uniting Church member, with part proceeds donated to that church.

‘This is another way of letting people know that the Lutheran church is here in Stawell and happy to help people in the community’, John says.

It has also become a major financial support for the ageing congregation. John and Lorraine, both retired teachers who have called Stawell home for about 40 years, have witnessed the change in the congregation’s size and age profile, as happens in many rural areas.

‘Almost all of the younger members of our families have left the area to complete their education and have then found employment in other areas’, John says. ‘In 2002 the congregation had 74 active communing members with almost 30 members in paid employment. We now have about 26 active communing members and, of these, only six are in paid employment.

‘This decline has made it extremely difficult for our congregation to meet our budget requirements and so a variety of extra fundraising ventures have been created to help cover the gap.’

The hard work of the woodcutters has almost evened out that shortfall.

But their ultimate optimism is reflected in John’s favourite Bible verses from Romans 8, reminding them that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It certainly shows that being God’s salt and light in the community takes many forms. Whether through chopping wood in near-zero temperatures, promoting the Christian message of Christmas, or lobbying to restore a historical organ, God’s light can shine into our world wherever he places us.

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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When Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) began 70 years ago, it was formed so that our Lutheran family could walk alongside people in need. That’s exactly what people like you still do today, says Jen Pfitzner …

At the end of World War II, Europe was left in ruins and millions of people were forced from their homes.

War-scarred people needed new places to live and Australia needed new workers – so began a 20-year exodus of more than 300,000 people to Bonegilla Migrant Centre near Wodonga in Victoria.

The journey from Europe took weeks. Arriving at Port Melbourne, weary families then boarded a train for the rattly eight-hour journey to Bonegilla – just a few lights in a siding in a paddock. These people looking for a better life must have wondered where they’d ended up!

Yet our Lutheran family was there, welcoming them with open arms. Helping them find their feet. Listening to their worries and hopes for the future.

In 1947 many of the migrants arriving at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre were Lutherans, so the Lutheran pastor in Albury, Rev Bruno Muetzelfeldt, began visiting the centre.

Often there were more than 1000 Lutherans at Bonegilla at a time, so Pastor Muetzelfeldt became the full-time chaplain. The Lutheran ministry to migrants expanded to place Lutheran pastors on the ships coming to Australia.

Then, once the government found migrants a more permanent home, the Lutheran team at Bonegilla let the local pastor know they were coming. This meant people had a pastor supporting them from their homeland to Bonegilla and then to their new home. Their faith may have been the only constant through this unsettling time. What an amazing comfort people our Lutheran family helped provide!

In 1950 the newly formed Lutheran World Federation (LWF) decided a base was needed in Australia to help with refugee resettlement and the Lutheran church’s aid agency was born – Lutheran World Service-Australia (LWS-A).

By 1955 the Lutheran team had helped resettle 2350 refugees and more staff were needed. Brian Neldner joined the team as a case-work assistant. He would go on to serve people through LWS for almost 40 years.

In 1960 Pastor Muetzelfeldt took on a senior position at the LWS headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Brian Neldner became the head of LWS-A. Lutheran Pastor Norman Sander was called to be chaplain at Bonegilla.

In 1964 Brian Neldner moved to Tanzania to head up the new LWS program there and Adelaide businessman Sid Bartsch became the new director of LWS-A.

When the LCA was established in 1966, it was agreed that LWS-A would be its channel for overseas aid. Mr Bartsch promoted the emergency, refugee and development work of the Lutheran World Service around the globe. He encouraged Australian Lutherans to support this work.

This is how the work through LWS-A moved from receiving help primarily from LWF to resettle refugees, to giving help to others!

In 1971 the Australian Government decided to close Bonegilla, so the LWS-A office moved into Albury.

By this time the need for help for migrants had declined, so support increasingly shifted to aid and development around the world, with a focus on refugees. This continues today, with ALWS supporting work in refugee camps where nearly 1.5 million displaced people live.

Through LWS-A, Australians supported the worldwide work of LWF and responses to disasters and emergencies, rather than specific projects. This generosity and trust mean gifts could – and still can – be used where needed most urgently.

In 1974 LWS-A received funds for the first time from the Australian Government’s Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB, which is now DFAT – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).

But just when it seemed that support for migrants coming to Australia was no longer needed, things changed. Refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, plus eastern Europeans, and later people from Central America, fled to Australia to find safety and security. Backed by the Australian Government, LWS-A supported nearly 2000 families to begin new lives in Australia. The Australian Government continues to trust ALWS to deliver community development work, with a rigorous process every five years to maintain accreditation.

By 1985 it was clear that LWS-A needed to become an Australian organisation, rather than a branch office of an international one, with one reason being that the Australian Government wanted to work with Australian organisations. The LCA and LWS in Geneva agreed the office should be called Australian Lutheran World Service. In 1991 ALWS became the aid and resettlement agency of the LCA.

The first director of ALWS was architect Gary Simpson. He and the new ALWS Board continued to make sure donations were used efficiently and effectively to help people in countries like Mozambique, Cambodia and Nepal. ALWS also reached out to victims of war and disasters, in places like Rwanda, East Timor and Malawi.

Organisations responding to disasters must coordinate their efforts to ensure resources are deployed quickly and effectively. That’s why Action by Churches Together (ACT Alliance) – a group of churches and church-related organisations of different denominations working together – was formed in 1995.

That year Peter Schirmer became the assistant secretary of ALWS, with the job of creating resources for teachers. These resources – class activities, videos, presentations and more – are used by more than 70 per cent of Lutheran schools across Australia today. After 10 years Peter took over as director of ALWS.

When the Boxing Day tsunami struck in 2004, support for Indonesia began through its largest Lutheran church, HKBP. This work grew to include other LWF churches in Indonesia, in partnership with LCA International Mission and Lutheran Education Australia, with generous financial support from the LLL.

Our Lutheran family embraced the first Gifts of Grace catalogue in 2008, sending support for life-changing assets such as goats and chickens around the world.

Chey Mattner became ALWS director in 2013.

In 2017, when the first Walk My Way refugee education support event was held, our ALWS family, supported by the Australian Government, gave more help than ever before – $8.6 million!

In 2018 Jamie Davies became director.

In 2019, as part of the GRACE Project, ALWS supporters helped more than 40,000 refugee children go to school – matching the number of students in Lutheran schools in Australia.

In 2020 even COVID-19 couldn’t stop our Lutheran family’s support, as Walk My Way became Walk YOUR Way and people like you walked, wheeled, woofed and even toddled your way to help others.

Today our church through ALWS works in 11 countries. Last year the ALWS family helped 297,498 people with the same spirit of service as Pastor Bruno 70 years ago. Walking alongside people. Side by side, every step of the way.

Thanks be to God for the blessings brought through ALWS, as together we seek to bring love to life.

Jen Pfitzner is ALWS Communications Support Officer.

 

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The LCA/NZ has released an interim report detailing the vision, recommendations and principles for a new constitutional framework for the church, along with church member feedback on the current constitution.

The General Church Board (GCB) is conducting the review of the 54-year-old constitution on behalf of General Synod. The interim report is the culmination of Phase 1 of the review process. The review aims to develop a constitution that serves the church well in being faithful to Christ, living out the gospel and thriving in the 21st century.

To date, approximately 250 church members have engaged with the review process. Some people have completed surveys, others have written submissions, some have participated in working groups, and still others have been involved in telephone interviews.

The purpose of the Phase 1 Review was to identify and analyse the key issues and establish the key principles that will be presented for approval as the framework that will guide the development of a new constitutional structure, Executive Officer of the Church Peter Schirmer said.

He said in 2021 the church would decide if, when and how it would move into Phase 2, planning for the actual updating of the constitutional framework. Submissions to the review show that most church members support having new, easier-to-read documentation. They would also like to see our separate General and District Synods constitutionally linked and working together more. And they would like to simplify the definition of ‘membership’ of congregations to bring our definitions in line with typical practice.

The detailed two-volume Interim Report provides a fuller outline of changes church members would like to see. The most significant suggested improvement is to regroup our current large document into three separate but related documents – a ‘Church Charter’, a ‘Book of Rules’ and a ‘Constitution’ for our legal structure.

Links to the interim report have been emailed to all pastors, congregation chairs and 2018 General Synod delegates. You can also find out more about the review and read both volumes of the report online at www.lca.org.au/constitution-review

Please provide your feedback on the report and its recommendations, along with any ideas you have about updating the LCA/NZ constitution, to your local district. Contact details are on the Constitution Review webpage.

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by Helen Beringen

Imagine a life where you have no say, no voice and no choice. Now imagine being housebound in a foreign land, where people speak a language you don’t understand and lead a way of life very different from your own.

Enter a kindly soul with a community bus who can take you from your doorstep to a safe place, where you are treated with dignity, where you make new friends and learn new skills.

Welcome to the Lutheran Community Sewing Group in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, where a volunteer team supports and teaches migrant women not only how to sew, but how to be valued, loved and to make sense of a new and alien world.

For almost 20 years coordinator Helen Semmler, 68, has run the group with a band of amazing helpers, from teachers to bus drivers, crèche helpers and sandwich makers. The past 16 of those years have been based at Albert Park Lutheran Church hall, where weekly student numbers average 25, with almost as many volunteers from 10 different Lutheran congregations, as well as other Christians, non-Christians, Sikhs and Muslims.

‘Our students these days are from Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, India, Eritrea, Iraq, China and Malaysia’, Helen says.

‘The most important thing we do in our group is equip the women with the skills and the confidence to achieve things, whether sewing projects or other goals. They often come from cultures which don’t value girls and women, so we applaud and celebrate every little pin cushion and every garment they make. This boosts their self-confidence and helps them to tackle other projects, such as driving.’

These are massive steps for women who have had no say in their lives previously. And relationships built over needles and thread grow both ways.

‘We have learnt more from our women than we’ve taught them – more about patience and love’, Helen says. ‘I am also sure that we show the love of Christ to them in a way which words could not always convey.’

The genesis of the group, which Helen calls ‘Our Beautiful Lutheran Sewing Group’, was her passion for sewing and love for helping. She and husband Ken had welcomed into their home a Sudanese widow, Monica, who had lived in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, supported by Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) through its international field partner, Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

‘I am a sewer, so when Monica came to our house and saw my sewing machines, she just stood there like she had been blitzed by lightning’, recalls Helen.

Helen not only agreed to teach Monica how to sew, but she soon began teaching Monica’s friend. And so, with the help of Noreen and Jim Klein, the group began.

In the past five years the group’s association with ALWS has gathered steam as the members have sewn up a fundraising storm.

If you’ve Walked my Way, you may even have been gifted one of the 830 colourful bags they’ve contributed to encourage participants in the event which supports children to go to school in refugee camps in east Africa.

While the sewing group has been in recess due to COVID-19 restrictions, a small group has begun sewing face masks for ALWS. They’ve already finished 500 masks, with another 400 in the pipeline.

‘What Helen and I have done is no big deal’, says Ken. ‘“For God so loved the world that he gave …”. In our own stumbling manner, can we do otherwise? Praise the Lord and press 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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At 32 weeks into the pregnancy, Karen Dymke discovered via an ultrasound exam that her third child was to be born with half a brain.

‘If I ever go to hell it will be to an ultrasound room’, she says. ‘I was called back at 32 weeks’ gestation to have a routine ultrasound check regarding my third child’s kidneys, which had been identified as slightly dilated. It was not a big deal, they said.’

After the initial check-up, they were told all was well. They then learnt there was a new ultrasound machine which would enable them to see the baby in more detail if they wished. They agreed but, as the new details of the baby emerged, the mood in the room changed.

‘The technician who had been very chatty became quieter and quieter’, Karen says. ‘She left the room. She came back with another person who took over. She left the room. We all looked at each other. The head doctor came in and took over.

‘He said, “I’m very sorry. There is something wrong with the baby’s brain”.’

Karen says a great debate ensued as to what to do. Her specialist wanted to operate urgently as the outlook was ‘dire’. But the radiographer assured them that often things can look bad on ultrasound but can rectify themselves.

She was able to go to a full-term pregnancy. On 6 December 1990 Jordan was born.

‘He looked perfect. You would have had no idea that anything was wrong’, she says. ‘There was no pressure in his brain, yet half of it was missing. They had no idea why or what to do and the prognosis was really negative. Would he talk? Would he walk? His function would be really limited.’

Karen spent more than a month with Jordan in hospital. There was a long and seemingly constant stream of appointments, tests and surgeries.

No-one seemed to know why this had happened.

Looking back, almost 30 years on, she says the first year of his life is a blur. Her marriage broke down and she relied on the help of her parents and in-laws as she cared for Jordan and her two young girls.

Her Lutheran church families in suburban Melbourne – firstly at Croydon and later at Box Hill – rallied around with support, love, prayer, house cleaning and whatever else was needed for the single mum and her family.

‘I have no idea how I would have survived my life if it wasn’t for my church family and also for our immediate family’, Karen, who remarried and had a fourth child, says. ‘Church family adds an amazing additional layer of community and support and care and concern.’

But, ultimately, she says Jordan’s birth was a ‘watershed moment’ for her.

‘It just changes your whole perspective of the world,’ she says. ‘I’ve got a little picture of Jordan from when he was born. The world changed from that moment.’

Jordan didn’t learn to walk until he was about three years old and didn’t talk clearly until he was eight. He still struggles with language due to having had a stroke at two. Already known to have cerebral palsy, Karen thought his struggle with reading was due to dyslexia but, when he started high school, he was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability. This was a terrible shock as he had always seemed so bright and aware.

Now 29, he is above average in abstract reasoning, has a wicked sense of humour, lives independently and works full-time as an artist producing work across a range of media for two studios. He also plays basketball in a Special Olympics team, has been a cross-country running champion and goes to the gym regularly. As Jordan will tell you, he is ‘as handsome as he was when he was born’!

Despite the challenges Jordan and his family have faced, Karen says he has been her ‘gift’.

‘But if I had found out at 32 weeks that an option was to maybe abort that baby, I would not have the gift that I’ve got today’, she says. ‘It hasn’t always been easy. There have been surgeries, missed milestones, lots of appointments, personal challenges.

‘But I wouldn’t give him up for the world. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Jordan. He has taught me patience, humility and to have a sense of humour – we survived by having a sense of humour. And to never, ever judge anyone as less than you.

‘I don’t believe that God gives you suffering, but I think that from suffering we can learn lessons and it wakes us up.

‘God has held us up through family, our church family and dear, faithful friends walking beside us. They are the hands and feet of Jesus.

‘Having the gift of a child who’s born with a disability is about stripping away all of those expectations we have of perfection. Instead we receive a gift who teaches inclusion and love.

‘Please, please respect each life. Each life is precious. Each unique. Each a gift. Each teaches us how to love. Jordan and I stand testament to that.’

Karen and Jordan Dymke are members at St Paul’s Lutheran Church Box Hill, Victoria.

Watch a video about Karen and Jordan at www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQmjCtE4YGI

See Jordan’s art at https://qart.endeavour.com.au and https://www.artsproject.org.au

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