The impact of COVID-19 has not by-passed Alice Springs or surrounding Central Australian Lutheran communities.

But we have been seeing many creative innovations in caring for and ministering to people.

The Lutheran church in Alice Springs has been directing people with internet access and who are comfortable speaking English to worship resources provided on the LCA website. We’ve also used our fence as a billboard.

However, for many in the Centre, access to reliable internet is limited and there are many who wish to worship in community languages. Households are being encouraged to consider themselves as mini-churches and make use of worship packs. These contain resources for a range of ages and needs, and help families to lead and be involved in worship. The packs include materials in Aboriginal languages and in English.

Being mindful of social distancing, Pastor Mark Thiel and I have driven around to deliver them to households, usually without leaving the vehicle! This interaction, albeit from a little further away, represents important pastoral care at a time when it’s easy for people to feel alone or abandoned.

Our pastoral assistants also have been keeping in touch with congregation members via phone and social media.

God bless you as you find new ways of proclaiming his word and caring for his people in your community, too!

– Suanne Tikoft, Aboriginal Women’s Support Worker

PS – If your church has Bible story books or posters which are no longer needed, these could bless household worship groups in Central Australia. Please email suanne.tikoft@lca.org.au

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by Marilyn Wall

The Lutheran Church of Australia’s vision for reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians is inspired by the gospel of reconciliation in Jesus Christ and is empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit.

That vision, as expressed in the LCA Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Vision Statement 2020, is ‘to bring to life an expression of our ministry that helps all peoples understand, value and respect the histories, cultures, lands and contributions of First Nations peoples; to recognise and honour our common humanity and for equity in opportunity to flourish, so together we can grow as God’s people’.

This is not new. On a personal level, our life as Christians calls us to do this very thing as we express ourselves as God’s children in our relationships with one another. We serve and are served equally, as we all were created and baptised in Jesus’ name.

The church’s commitment at the 19th General Convention of Synod in 2018 to embark on a RAP is a pledge to use a tailor-made planning tool to assist in our journey of reconciliation. This planning tool has been developed by Reconciliation Australia, the lead body for reconciliation in the nation. Across all areas of our ministry, this Synod resolution focuses on recognising the reconciliation journey thus far and seeks to further strengthen respectful relationships with First Nations peoples. We will all do this in our unique ways. Raising awareness in this space is an important step.

Understandably, many people are unfamiliar with the notion of a RAP. A RAP focuses on intentional and affirmative actions that can assist in breaking down unfamiliarity about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their histories, cultures, connection to land and contributions, in particular as they relate to our church. This leads to increasingly meaningful relationships with First Nations peoples.

There are three core pillars to any RAP – relationships, respect and opportunities. RAP actions and achievements, known as deliverables, fall into one of these three pillars – each pillar strengthening the other. Our RAP requires the identification of a small number of actions and a commitment to aligned deliverables that focuses on:

Relationships: Relationships are at the heart of reconciliation. The primary purpose of the LCA RAP is to develop churchwide opportunities for the church to build upon its solid foundation of respectful and dignified relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader LCA community.

Respect: Understanding of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, rights and experiences underpin progress toward reconciliation.

Opportunities: When we work together to craft culturally appropriate solutions to matters that are relevant to First Nations Peoples, we can help create the right environment to identify a range of possibilities and opportunities.

The LCA General Church Board (GCB) has oversight of the RAP process. The church has first embarked on developing a Reflect RAP. This scoping plan sets out the steps to be taken to prepare for reconciliation initiatives, laying the foundation for progression onto further RAPs.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, having continued to engage in conversation and hearing from a breadth of voices, our church will be in a more informed position to proceed to the second or implementation stage – an Innovate RAP. An Innovate RAP outlines actions that work towards achieving the church’s unique vision for reconciliation.

An external RAP Working Group, which is inclusive of both First Nations and other Australians, is formed in preparation for the Innovate RAP. Among this group’s priorities is to propose actions and strategies to support non-Aboriginal people to gain insight into what is important to First Nations peoples. It will also aim to create opportunities to encourage and enable the meaningful service and leadership of First Nations peoples in all aspects of church life in the LCA.

So where are we now? The first draft of the LCA Reflect RAP has received GCB’s approval and has been conditionally endorsed by Reconciliation Australia. We are now in stage two of the endorsement process, which likewise requires the approval of GCB and endorsement of Reconciliation Australia. Once finally endorsed, the RAP then will become a public declaration of the commitment made at the 2018 Synod.

A particular strength of the RAP process is the inbuilt accountability that requires regular progress updates towards identified commitments.

Reconciliation is a journey, not a destination. It is the good news of Jesus’ saving love that makes reconciliation everybody’s business and our mission to share that gospel invites us to share this journey.

You can follow the progress of the RAP via the LCA’s RAP website.

Marilyn Wall is the LCA’s RAP Project Officer.

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by Janette Lange

I handed her the photo. Taken in the early 1900s at Koonibba Mission on South Australia’s west coast, it showed a young Aboriginal man on his confirmation day. She looked at it for a few moments, taking in the image of her grandfather, then tears rolled down her cheeks. ‘Thank you! This is just what I’ve been looking for!’ Such can be the power of the records we hold at Lutheran Archives.

Hundreds of photos like this capture life at Lutheran missions in South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. These are securely maintained in our Adelaide archives. But, for many Aboriginal people, distance means they can’t browse the photos and viewing them online may not be an option. So Lutheran Archives is building partnerships with communities to find other ways to provide access.

An important step is making personal connections and discussing how to go forward together. It has been wonderful to have Aboriginal elders and traditional owners from Koonibba and Wujal Wujal – site of the Bloomfield River Mission in Far North Queensland – visit Lutheran Archives as part of this process.

In 2016, we digitised 800 photos and films relating to Koonibba Mission and these are now available through community centres in Ceduna and Koonibba. Likewise, a project with the State Library of Queensland and the Wujal Wujal and Hope Vale communities has seen almost 1500 photos digitised and provided to those communities. We hope these images will jog memories, spark stories and provide opportunities for people to feed information back to Lutheran Archives.

We hope to build similar partnerships with other Aboriginal communities, as access to personal information is vital to healing and to establishing identity.

Last year Lutheran Archives renewed its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia’s Link-Up SA program, which assists survivors of the Stolen Generations to access records.

However, there is more to be done. Hundreds of pages of mission records are yet to be indexed and there are more mission photos and records to digitise. So hopefully we’ll hear those words again, ‘Thank you! This is just what I’ve been looking for!’

Janette Lange is Acting Director of Lutheran Archives.

More details: phone 08 8340 4009, email lutheran.archives@lca.org.au or visit the website at www.lca.org.au/archives

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by Tania Nelson

The words of the hymn ‘I’ll go where you want me to go … ’ were dear to the late Pastor Paul Albers (pictured). They were played in a photo presentation at his funeral in March in suburban Adelaide.

His son-in-law, Pastor Avito da Costa, shared, ‘Dad Albers had organised everything about his funeral, down to the hymns that would be sung, the Bible readings to be read and even that Norm (now in his 90s) would play the music. The funeral was prepaid and he would be committed next to his beloved wife Erna, who died in 2008. There was even a note that said, “I haven’t paid for the refreshments yet”.’

The funeral, however, did not proceed as originally planned, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘It was very distressing’, said Paul’s daughter, Anna da Costa. ‘First, we heard the announcement about social distancing and thought we could manage that. Then Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that funerals would be held with no more than 10 attendees. Interstate relatives and friends had to cancel flights and accommodation.

‘Sadly, two of my siblings were unable to attend the funeral. One was in lockdown at Hope Valley Lutheran Homes and the other unable to fly in because of border closures.’

How do you manage a limit with so many wanting to pay their respects? How can family and friends say goodbye to their father, grandfather, pastor and friend? Emails and phone calls were hurriedly sent and made and, thanks to Concordia Lutheran Church, Loxton – the da Costa’s home town in South Australia, where Pastor Paul also attended in the 1990s – an In Memoriam page was added to their website including the obituary, the service order and Pastor Chris Gallasch’s sermon for anyone to read.

Dr Tania Nelson is the LCA/NZ’s Executive Officer – Local Mission, which includes Ministry with the Ageing.

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The LCA/NZ’s New and Renewing Churches department exists to serve the kingdom of God by facilitating church planting and renewal. International research indicates that denominations need to plant new congregations at a rate of three per cent per year, just to remain constant. New and Renewing Churches’ desire for a five per cent growth in congregations equates to 23 new churches per year. The LCA/NZ’s Executive Officer – Local Mission Dr Tania Nelson puts that target in perspective. ‘Is that ambitious?’, she asks. ‘Absolutely. But let’s not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit!’

What does New and Renewing Churches do?

  • Assists churches to begin, evaluate or progress their journey in church planting.
  • Works with local church leaders and pastors to build church planting capacity.
  • Provides resources, training opportunities, conferences and a supportive network for church planters and missional communities. The aim is to mobilise the whole church in the work of seeing new believers come to Christ – and to see mature churches that plant churches as the norm.
  • Works with local congregations and agencies of the church to help them assess opportunities for church planting and provides mentorship for church leaders and pastors on this journey.
  • Walks with missional communities and church planters as they establish new groups of believers.
  • Aims to help local congregations and agencies discern what the Spirit is saying as they seek to follow him.

What does church planting look like in the LCA/NZ?

  • Our approach incorporates three key elements: a sending church, a church planning team and mentoring in the field.
  • Experience and international research both show that these elements are essential.

What is a sending church?

  • A sending church is a ‘mother’ church.
  • It both nurtures the missional communities from which the church planting team is formed, and supports the ‘toddler’ church until it is formally launched as its own entity.
  • And at that time, the ‘daughter’ church is already planning to plant again! (As, we hope, will be the ‘mother’ church!)
  • The first phase of sending church preparation is all about the missional leadership of the congregation; the second phase rolls that out to the wider congregation; and the third phase develops missional communities from which the church planting team(s) will be formed.
  • Research also shows that sending churches receive an enormous benefit from the church planting venture.
  • The sending church journey is described in the booklet Church Planting: Plant Water Grow, which you can access through the department webpages (lca.org.au/new-and-renewing-churches) on the New Churches page.

What is a partner church?

  • Not all congregations are able to be a sending church. So partner churches are just that, partners in the mission of church planting.
  • That partnership is expressed in prayer, practical support, personal relationships and participating in ministry support of the new churches.
  • Our goal is to see every congregation in the LCA/NZ understand itself as either a sending church or a partner church.
  • For more information about partner churches see ‘Partner Churches’ via this question on the New and Renewing Churches webpages.

Planting 230 churches in 10 years. Isn’t that ambitious?

  • Actually, no. It’s impossible.
  • That’s why we need your prayers, participation and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
  • The vision is as bold as it is because it needs to be. Let’s not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in this.
  • A missional culture change is underway and we are confident that the LCA/NZ will see a growth of sending churches and partner churches and a corresponding growth of church plants.

Who is going to lead our church plants?

  • The leaders of the church plant will emerge as a result of the training and support provided to the sending church.
  • The LCA/NZ is actively developing pathways for new leaders, identified by gifting, to receive training. They also receive on-the-ground mentoring.
  • The sending church retains oversight of the church plant until such time as the church plant wishes to be a congregation in its own right.
  • We’ve already seen a significant number of young church planters identified within the LCA/NZ and we expect that to increase in the coming years.

How can my congregation get involved in church planting?

In the first instance, speak to Pastor Noel Due (Pastor for New and Renewing Churches) via noel.due@lca.org.au

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by Lisa McIntosh

For Susie Taylor, the LCA/NZ church plant at Pakenham’s Lakeside College in Melbourne’s outer south-eastern suburbs is an answer to prayer – and a place where God is working miracles in people’s lives.

Pakenham Lakeside Church is a fairly small church – with an average attendance of about 25 per Sunday – but it’s seen as very friendly. At Pakenham, Susie has found a community where she and her family thrive on belonging.

Having grown up in the Orthodox tradition and having been formerly involved with both Baptist and Pentecostal churches, she had been looking for a way to reconnect with a church family in regular worship. When she met her partner Vince, whose background was in the Lutheran Church, he considered himself an agnostic and, Susie, says, wasn’t a ‘churchy person’. For years she prayed that they could be part of a church community and practise faith together.

Vince had tried going along with Susie to a Pentecostal church but he didn’t feel comfortable or keen to continue attending.

Then, about three years ago, Vince’s daughter was invited by a friend to worship at Pakenham. Going through a divorce, she felt welcomed and cared for by members of the church, which was planted by the Victorian District of the LCA in 2015. She decided to have her young children baptised there and invited Vince and Susie to come along.

Around that time, Vince had some health problems. Pakenham’s Pastor Nathan Hedt visited Vince in hospital, ministered to him and prayed for him, which Susie believes was critical in Vince coming back to the church.

‘I think that appealed to him that there was someone out there who really cared’, she says. ‘He started getting to know Pastor Nathan and became friends with him. I think the fact, too, that when Vince was younger, he went to a Lutheran church was important. I think he just wanted to get back to his roots.’

Gradually, Vince and Susie got to know Pastor Nathan, who is also College Pastor at the school, his wife Yvette and other members. Building relationships created connections for Susie and Vince, and church worship at Pakenham became a regular thing.

‘It’s been a real answer to prayer; a big, big answer to prayer’, Susie says. ‘I never, ever thought I’d see Vince in church, ever. So for me, it’s been a real answer to prayer. And when I see him at church, I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe it’s happening. When I first met him, he considered himself an agnostic, whereas now he’s a Christian.

‘We also wanted to go to church, too, to support his daughter and the children – to encourage them with what they were doing. It’s been wonderful that they were introduced to the church, too, because they didn’t have any previous involvement with the church at all. So it’s been a miracle, it’s amazing. God is at work, definitely.’

Now Susie and Vince volunteer at the church and are part of the service roster, helping to prepare the space for Sunday worship. They also hosted a Bible study group at Susie’s house last year and she is keen to increase her volunteer service with others from Lakeside, taking meals and friendship to members of the local community.

‘We’re trying to introduce more things into the community that help the community’, Susie says. ‘It is different from how many people have experienced church, because instead of just preaching to people, you’re showing your love through making meals, befriending people and visiting people who may be lonely. You are extending love by doing things for people, being there and ministering to them. I think there is a real need for that and I think it does change people’s perspective of a traditional church because it makes it more personal.’

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 by Anna Kroehn

Messy Church in Waikerie in South Australia’s Riverland began in 2017 as a missional experiment. We were trying to create a Christian learning and celebrating environment to engage our children and the school families we connect with.

It has since become a preferred church community for many families in our region. Anecdotally, we know that some people call Messy Church their church and unapologetically do not go to Sunday morning worship anywhere else.

Now Messy Church is one of the greatest hopes our local church has for the future in terms of newcomer attendance at church, relationship building and discipleship.

In 2019 we had 125 people register at Messy Church, including helpers. These 125 people represented 28 families, nine grandparents of children in attendance, 67 children under the age of 14 – or 53 per cent of the total attenders – and 14 adult helpers who attended without a child.

Of the families, 10 are not worshipping members of any other church. Sixteen of the families have children enrolled at Waikerie Lutheran Primary School, while 15 either have previously attended or currently attend Mainly Music. Three Messy Church families come from other Lutheran churches in the Riverland region, while two come from the Waikerie Uniting Church.

Overall, approximately one-third of Waikerie Messy Church members are new to church or were not previously worshipping anywhere else, one-third are local parish members and one-third belong to other churches. Attendance month by month in 2019 varied from 47 people up to 71.

Every Messy Church is an opportunity for well-formed Christians to share their faith as they come alongside, befriend and do messy activities, like arts and crafts, with the families in attendance.

Each session has a theme and the activities explore a teaching – a bit like a sermon, but hands-on! We have 10 to 15 minutes of celebrating our learning from activity time, sing songs, watch a video, drama or reading of the story, and pray together. We finish by sharing dinner.

One of my favourite parts comes after the mess. During the clean-up we find the artwork, treasures and forgotten pieces people have worked on during the evening. Some of them are quite powerful. This is a reminder to me to never underestimate what God is doing in those activities! Sometimes children and adults will lay bare very honest requests at prayer stations or in self-reflection activities.

Some of my most treasured moments during Messy Church – and those of other helpers – are talking to kids at our stations about the evening’s story and topic. Once we discussed how they would feel if an angel appeared to them to tell them they were brave and mighty, and to not be afraid because God is with them, like God did to Gideon. I was talking to two young girls and they asserted that this probably wouldn’t happen to them because the Bible is mostly full of ‘boy stories’. I had the privilege to tell them that there were amazing Bible stories about God using women for mighty brave acts, too.

And that’s how we plan our sessions. We listen to the Holy Spirit as a team, discuss emerging themes and questions our Messy Church attendees have and then plan sessions to address them.

In 2019, we hosted holy communion for the first time at our post-Easter session about the Road to Emmaus and we will celebrate it again in 2020.

Waikerie Parish Pastor Lee Kroehn supports us to deliver these special parts of worship in appropriate ways for new or not-yet Christians, in line with our Lutheran beliefs and values.

Another huge highlight from the past year of Messy Church included a baptism at the school after the young person expressed his wish to be baptised. This was a gradual process of him attending Messy Church regularly, together with parish services at the school and worship at Waikerie Lutheran Church on some Sunday mornings. We are thankful for the mentoring and support provided through many people. The parish has also been able to support the further discipleship of this young person by sponsoring his attendance at Lutheran holiday camps – JC Life (Junior Christian Life) and Christian Life Week.

We continue to pray for those families who are coming to Messy church even though they do not necessarily profess faith but enjoy belonging to our community. And we look for practical ways to show love to these families. Most people new to Christian faith and communities belong before they believe these days.

We invite you to keep us, and the families we meet with, in your prayers. Please also pray specifically for our leadership to be sustained in energy and time, for the right helpers to be available and for the growth conversations we have each time about faith and life and God’s great love for us all.

Anna Kroehn is a member of the Messy Church Core Team, along with Alison Wurst and Melissa Pipikos, for Waikerie Lutheran Parish in South Australia. Anna is also chairperson of the LCA/NZ’s Committee for New and Renewing Churches.

 

 

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by Julie Hahn

I’d just closed my eyes when I heard a gentle knock on my hospital room door. I was tempted to roll over and tell the nurse, ‘It’s okay. You look after her. I’ll get some sleep’. With two other little ones at home, sleep was not on my agenda. But a midwife had swaddled my new baby so that all I could see of her were two enormous brown eyes that peeped out, blinked at me and drilled straight to my heart. There was no going back to the nursery for her. I was in love with my new baby girl.

But less than two years later, after I’d retrieved her from climbing to the top shelf of the pantry and cleaned up the 400th mess for the morning, I found myself in a fed-up heap on the floor.

Sobbing.

Screaming.

‘GOD! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!’

What happened between the moment I fell in love with my child and the moment I found myself on the floor, exhausted, depressed and defeated?

Life and motherhood is what happened. I’d given everything I had, and still, being a mother seemed to require more.

As I lay there at the lowest place I’d ever been, a verse of Scripture came wafting into my consciousness. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. In my heart, it was translated as ‘I’ve been waiting for you to let me! You’ve been relying on yourself. You have been fighting so hard to stay in control of everything. No wonder you’re exhausted. Why don’t you let me take over?’

It would make a great story if God sent angels to rescue me and clean the house, do the washing, make meals, drive to the kids’ schools, pick up their dad from work, clean up drips on the floor, read 52 storybooks a day, clean sticky fingers and faces, and answer the three-year-old’s 300 ‘whys’.

But angels – the heavenly variety with wings – didn’t arrive to take away my work. Something much better happened. God showed me how to rely on his strength – and not my own. On that first day, on the radio, in the book I was reading and in the words of a friend, I heard the words, ‘God is faithful’.

During the next few days, weeks and months, as I made it from one difficult moment to the next, I recited, ‘God is faithful’.

My eyes opened up to the ‘angels’ with skin on: the women at church, my friends, other mums, books about parenting, voices on the radio, my family at the other end of the telephone, and my poor husband who’d been filling in the gaps.

I learnt how to love in new and different ways. The new ways worked.

Ours used to be a ‘No’ house. If the children asked for something, the answer was ‘No’. If they reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with ‘No!’
The children each expressed that life was not as it should be. The five-year-old took control of everything – and everybody. The three-year-old grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.

I thought I appeared calm on the outside, but on the inside I was screaming, stressed out and miserable.

Devoted and meticulous, my husband attended to all the jobs for which I had neither the energy nor inclination. If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.

It’s not surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from our daily lives.

One day, our children’s preschool teacher took me aside and asked, ‘Miss Julie, is there a reason I don’t hear you saying ‘Yes’ to your children?’ I didn’t have an answer. But that question changed our family’s life path.

When preschool ended that day, for the first time ever I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could. My children spread out their arms and ran into mine. It restored the smile that had gone missing.

From then on, at every possible opportunity, I watched people like that preschool teacher in action, and then I’d go home and practise. We read books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results. Our house gradually became a ‘Yes’ house.

Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up ‘discipline’ but rather, changed the way we disciplined. We had confused discipline with punishment. We learnt that to discipline means to ‘train’; that is to show how.

We learnt to show our children how to touch things gently – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch things, such as books, china and baby brothers and sisters … gently. When we responded with a ‘Yes, that’s right. Gentle’, we found we were more likely to see that behaviour repeated.

Others helped us see that children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents. When given small, manageable tasks and when they know that the rest of the family ‘team’ relies on them to do them, children tend to rise to the expectation.

Nobody starts out as a parent wanting to scream at their child – or at the other parent. But what we find ourselves doing in moments of stress is often exactly what we promised ourselves we would never do.

We learnt through watching other families and through our own mistakes, that children don’t need perfect parents. They need parents who know about grace – who know how to give without expecting anything in return. Grace in parenting is recognising that simply by being, they are likely to get into trouble – that’s real life. But grace is about picking them up, dusting them off and loving them anyway.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve been observing, studying and practising practical ways for parents to be more effective parents. I’ve taught parenting classes and mentored families. I’ve watched families make small changes, which have resulted in big differences.

Often parents ignore the spiritual aspect of their lives. I found that the changing demands of being a mum sidetracked my own spiritual journey. By joining a craft group of Christian women, I was able to talk through my frustrations. The older women helped me to know that they, too, had struggled. They helped me understand that Jesus is just as loving towards struggling, bleary-eyed mums as with anyone else. And during the journey, Jesus will never, ever leave me. Jesus is faithful.

It’s now more than 20 years since I was in that screaming heap. With new skills and knowledge, and an open heart and mind to the wisdom of others, parenting has been much more bearable – dare I say, enjoyable. We have certainly had our ‘moments’ but, generally, we have a lot of fun together and keep in touch when we’re apart.

Every now and then, a little verse comes wafting back into my consciousness, ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

And I’m reminded to keep my eyes open for angels with skin on, and that God is and always will be … faithful.

Julie Hahn is a member of The Ark, Salisbury Lutheran Church, in South Australia, mother of four adult children and the wife of a scientist. She plans to release her first book ‘I’m too busy being a parent to read a parenting book’ soon.

This story is an excerpt from the Lutheran Media booklet Parenting Finding the Fun. To order a copy, phone 08 8267 7300, email luthmedia@lca.org.au or visit the website at www.lutheranmedia.org.au

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by Nick Mattiske

You may have seen the TV ad where a dad makes a cheese and ham sandwich for his son, but the son says, ‘That’s not how Mum makes it’. The dad has to flip the sandwich over so it’s now ham and cheese rather than cheese and ham. The ad gives some idea of the negotiations involved in parenting, though it would be nice if all parenting problems were resolved so easily.

Parenting is not just about dealing with children; there’s a lot of head-scratching over work-life balance, sharing housework and dealing with different expectations.

My wife stayed home with our son for a year or so after he was born, then we both worked part-time, sharing care. Then changing, unstable work circumstances meant that I ended up doing more of the stay-at-home parenting. This wasn’t, let’s say, carefully planned out – it just happened. And it brings complications, some trivial, such as me changing my son’s sheets right after my wife did because I didn’t realise she had already done it, others less so.

While my work, though not particularly high-flying, allows me to be involved in child-raising, the instability and complexity do create some anxiety. This is exacerbated by a lack of grandparents and other family members in close proximity to share the load. Women especially say to me that I won’t regret spending more time with my son, but there is a price to pay.

In our society, being a stay-at-home dad is still something of an anomaly. As journalist Annabel Crabb points out in her recent perceptive 2019 Quarterly Essay ‘Men at Work’, women aren’t generally asked why they want to stay home to raise their kids – it’s self-evident. But there is suspicion over why dads would choose kids over a career, perhaps the flipside of suspicion over why women aim to be leaders, and our society has not properly worked out yet how men can juggle work and parenting. (Crabb also points out how – no surprise – northern Europe is way ahead of us. A German friend of mine recently said that this is why in Germany you don’t see the Australian backyard party stereotype of the men standing around drinking beer and the women in the kitchen cooking.)

I benefit from living in a not-particularly-salubrious, multicultural suburb where people privilege richness of life over monetary richness, so there is a certain understanding here. Community is important. Nuclear families can be dangerous because bottled up in one household, problems can go … well, nuclear. Because my son is sports-mad, I have been drawn more into sporting clubs and have been pleasantly surprised by the community one finds there.

It’s a generalisation that men talk about deeper issues less and perhaps need to be particularly attentive to the threat of isolation, while women tend to get together easier for playdates and the like, but it’s helpful for all parents to find other parents with the same problems or to see other parents with different problems. It’s a way of informally workshopping issues and keeping things in perspective.

Parenting is not something easily explained to people without kids. It’s like falling in love or eating very hot chillies – description comes a distant second to experiencing it and there’s only so much planning one can do. Much of the time it’s just what we have to do; you can’t box them up and return them in the mail. Parenting is both hard and joyous and my personal steep learning curve has been about living with both the joy and the difficulties and realising that neither me as a father nor my child are perfect or dreadful.

Living in a household together and the effort that goes into feeding a child both physically and spiritually results in a degree of tension, though the more time I spend with my son, the more depth of understanding I gain.

More time with my son also means he can learn from me, even from my mistakes, of which there are plenty. The encouragement of a Christian perspective in my son, instilling notions of right and wrong, encouraging care for others, the cultivation of priorities, the questioning of things, as well as enthusiasm for physical activity, nature and art, becomes interwoven with everyday activities. And, pleasantly, my son’s moral maturing means the instruction goes both ways. I now tend to give more to homeless people and think twice before buying that donut.

I must stress that my wife and I share parenting, and although I take the bulk of time, I am not sure overall that the parenting is equally shared. My wife still texts me on her way to work about lunchboxes and permission slips.

In the church, we can and do help in various practical ways, especially where, with a mobile population, there are not wider family networks for support. It would also be good not to mistake social convention for divine sanction. And in the church, when we talk about gender roles as we have been recently, it would be helpful if we didn’t then assume that gender automatically predisposes temperament, ambition and skills, and we instead nurture the flowering of individuals.

As Annabel Crabb says, aside from giving birth and breastfeeding, men are capable of the jobs parenting requires us to do and being allowed to do so enriches both men’s lives and our society. Even if the women need to check up on us some of the time.

Nick Mattiske is a member of St Paul’s Lutheran Church at Box Hill in suburban Melbourne.

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by Colleen Fitzpatrick

I am the proud grandparent of three amazingly beautiful and gifted granddaughters.

I should clarify that I am one of those grandparents who gets to spend time with the aforementioned grandchildren and then can hand them back to their parents. I am not one of those wonderfully heroic grandparents who have taken on the role of parenting grandchildren in order to keep them safe.

I would like to acknowledge, too, family members and friends who do not have children and/or grandchildren, yet who still listen and enjoy stories of our grandchildren. I know that some of you would have chosen to have children and grandchildren and that the joy you share with us is at times mingled with sadness.

When I was a new mother, I was bewildered, bewitched, bemused … I hadn’t had much experience with children, let alone babies. My parents were interstate and my parents-in-law didn’t have a car, so the main support they could provide was by phone or the occasional visit. Somehow I survived and so did our children. Whew! That was largely due to having a husband who is a natural with children, who spent a lot of what could have been free time caring for our daughters and having all sorts of adventures with them. It has been wonderful to see those days return as we care for and interact with our granddaughters.

When our daughter told us that she was pregnant with twins, after we had both mopped up our tears, we started thinking about the implications and how she would manage with a toddler and two babies.

I came to the decision that I would give up work to be available to help in those important early days. In the meantime, my husband, John, was taking a day off work a week to care for our toddler granddaughter.

Being grandparents is vastly different from being parents.

All is fine while they are compliant and cute and all is going smoothly – but then they can ‘turn’ and that is difficult. We are not their parents and I struggle to know how to respond to bad behaviour – or probably, more accurately, to defiant behaviour. When I ask Miss Eight-years-old to set the table and she says ‘I won’t!’, I find myself resorting to reminding her that, ‘Mummy has said that you are to do that’. It works sometimes.

We love having fun with our grandchildren and I am thankful that they have reintroduced me to the joys of shooting goals with a netball. It’s also great to play Chinese checkers, Uno and other games, and even better when I win! I love teaching them the names of flowers or how to sew or having them help in the kitchen – many things that I wasn’t able to do with my own grandparents, due to distance, work duty or death.

A sadness for me is that the Christian faith is not a part of our grandchildren’s everyday life, as our daughter became disengaged from the church during her teenage years. However, our grandchildren are baptised – and this gives me comfort and hope. They are aware that I go to church every Sunday and at family gatherings, I ask a blessing before we eat together. This has become an expectation, and I am seen as the family ‘pray-er’.

However, it’s not always easy to find the openings to share faith with our grandchildren.

I believe there is more that we as church can do to support and encourage those who, like me, struggle with this within the intimate circle of our families, to follow up on the confirmees who have drifted away from the church, to let them know we still care about them and that they are not forgotten. And to provide comfort and hope to those of us who unceasingly pray for protection and salvation for those who are nearest and dearest to us.

Colleen Fitzpatrick is a member of St Stephens Lutheran Church in Adelaide.

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