Transformed by love
By Sheree Schmaal
Remembering the Kentwells
For years Julius Kentwell was the most unlovable neighbour in his street. The one person no-one in the Lower Blue Mountains town of Springwood wanted to have over for dinner. The one who had 16 cats and whose house smelled so bad that people used to cross the road when they walked by. He cursed Our Saviour Lutheran Church when it was built opposite his house and swore never to go in.
There was no way that you’d get me to attend a service’, Julius wrote years later—expletives removed.
‘It would have been the ultimate sacrifice: denying myself the pleasures of a lazy Sunday sleep-in. No minister could spout a good enough blurb to outdo my own pleasures.’
The 50-something-year-old man was not afraid to share his opinions with anyone who dared to walk past his front verandah.
‘I always regarded the traditional church as a place where the preacher dressed up like the village idiot and chanted a load of rhubarb; where the aims of the exercise were money and power; where I never knew any of the hymns; where the sermons would bore the armour off a medieval knight; and where there was an overwhelming lack of relevance to the real world’, he wrote.
Marie Hamann and her husband, Pastor Robert Hamann, were among the few who did walk past. Over cold glasses of Julius’ homebrew, things started to change.
‘We got to know Julius and his wife, Jenny, when we moved into the manse at Springwood in 1992’, explained Marie.
‘They were both intelligent and had a close, loving marriage, but were not the kind of people it was easy to love.’
‘No-one else in the street had any time for Julius because he was difficult to be around’, Robert said. ‘But we were prepared to stop and talk. On one occasion, after we had known Julius and Jenny as neighbours for quite a while—it was 31 October—I was walking past and Julius invited me in for a beer. I said, “What did you celebrate today Julius, Halloween or the Reformation?” It was sort of a poke to make him curious and to give me the opportunity to talk about it.
‘Of course, he didn’t have a clue what the Reformation was. But he was a very intelligent man and always interested in new things. So it was a good opportunity to open his eyes to what was right there in his community.’
Julius admitted he knew ‘as much about the Lutheran Church as [his] budgerigar knows about nuclear physics’, but still never imagined going inside the church.
Yet one day an invitation from Marie changed his mind.
‘Marie said to me I really ought to get myself out of the sack and across to hear her hubby do his thing. Yeah, sure, yawns I’, Julius wrote.
‘But there was something infectious about Marie’s excitement for her husband’s sermons, a series of analyses on the Apostles Creed … So, as much as anything to shut her up, I went to [hear] one after scraping up a fiver for the plate, on the basis that Bob’s sermons were his livelihood, so he’d better get some pay for his work.’
Julius sat right in the middle of the front row that first Sunday and for the rest of the 22-part series. Thereafter, he returned nearly every week for the rest of his life to continue learning about basic Christian theology.
‘To the other 30-or-so members of the congregation he was a shock; his lifestyle