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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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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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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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