by Tick Zweck
When Ern Heyne died, an entire city mourned.
Riding the tram in suburban Adelaide one day, I noticed the woman next to me fidgeting in her handbag one minute, peering intently out of the window the next. I asked whether she was okay and she responded she was from the country, and had no idea at which stop to get off. I said she could follow me as her destination was on my way.
We chatted and, when I discovered she hailed from Port Pirie, I asked if she had any connections with the Lutheran church there. She didn’t, and wanted to know why I had asked. I told her my mother’s eldest brother lived there, and she insisted I elaborate, so I inquired whether she knew of Ern Heyne. She answered incredulously: ‘Everyone knows Pastor Heyne!’.
A former primary school teacher, Ern made a huge impact on this large regional centre in the Mid-North of South Australia. Ordained in January 1964, he was installed in the Port Pirie Lutheran Church soon after, and continued to serve the city until he retired (officially) in December 1997.
In a civic reception in 2014 he was honoured for 50 years of service to Port Pirie. In 2012 he wrote in his regular column, ‘My Say’, in The Recorder, ‘When I was appointed as pastor of the Port Pirie Lutheran Church, there were people in the big smoke who, in their ignorance, said, “Port Pirie?” My simple response was “Yes. I prayed last night I would get Pirie”.’
He was bound to make an impact, though when he first arrived, sporting long hair and riding a motorbike, one parishioner inquired who he was!
This was a man who sincerely said, ‘Here I am, Lord, send me’. I’ve learnt that when you offer your service to God in gratitude, he will take you up on it, and use you to be his hands and feet to glorify him.
This was a match literally made in heaven. In his own inimitable style, he reckoned God thought, ‘Ern’s a bit rough, Pirie’s a bit rough; they’ll get on great’. He often said he would not want to be anywhere else: ‘I look into people’s faces and
I think, “Port Pirie is the most beautiful place in the world”’ (The Recorder, 18 September 2014).
Ern’s care for the people of Pirie was evident in the 2132 weekly columns (‘My Say’) he wrote for The Recorder spanning 41 years. His final message was on 19 November 2015, only 18 days before he died. Even when he was overseas visiting House of Hope, the children’s home he sponsored in Sumatra, or seeing his nephew working in Uganda, Ern submitted an article. Featuring both everyday issues and broader social topics, they ‘enlightened and inspired people, but also enraged some or caused strong debate’, according to an editorial in The Recorder (9 August 2011). I have read hundreds of the provocative pieces, infused with personal observations and childhood reminiscences. The latter were arguably to illustrate the importance he placed on faith, family values and forgiveness. The same editorial put it this way: ‘Ern is a quiet believer in his faith who has his say, but never forces his opinions on anyone.