by Stuart Gray
What a joyous occasion!
On 9 November, more than 500 people were privileged to experience the joy and excitement of witnessing the dedication of a new church building, at Shepparton, in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley. Celebrations were particularly jubilant, as the congregation’s African choirs’ rhythmic singing exuded praise, thanks, honour and glory to God.
The opening of the new St Paul’s Lutheran church was the culmination of a wonderful story of God’s grace to a small, struggling congregation and to people who had fled their countries, losing all that they had owned.
They saw the Lutheran church as their ‘mother’
The emphasis of the day was not on the journey to get to this point but on the new beginning that the dedication of St Paul’s represents.
Rev Matt Anker of St Paul’s summed it up succinctly: ‘The building is complete, but the journey has just begun’.
But the journey towards the completed building is a story worth telling.
Before Pastor Matt took up his call to Shepparton in February 2007, he was advised by then St Paul’s chairperson, Bev Schumacher, that a couple of Africans had been worshipping with them for a few months. African refugees had begun to arrive in Shepparton and, because they had come to know Jesus in the Lutheran church back home and were then cared for in refugee camps run by Lutheran World Service, they saw the Lutheran church as their ‘mother’. They wanted to be part of the church in Australia too.
First were Baharti and his family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—and they alone increased the size of the congregation by one-third. Then came more families—from the DRC, from South Sudan and Burundi.