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by Helen Beringen

When the first flush of spring and summer flowers bloom, who doesn’t want to stop and smell the roses?

So a rose garden planted lovingly as a heartwarming invitation to a church is surely going to be a welcoming sign, and an opportunity to witness to the beauty of God’s creation.

Enter Bethlehem Lutheran Church, in suburban Perth, nestled amongst a sea of houses in Morley. Four years ago, the large grassed block received a magnificent makeover. The natives shrouding the front of the church had grown straggly with age. But from the few rose bushes hidden in their midst, an idea grew to develop a rose garden.

Foundation members Ewald Schmidt, known as Wally, and his wife Ruth felt a push from Creation’s Chief Gardener to build the rose garden in a well-used thoroughfare to the local primary school and a beautiful local park.

’The church garden looked a bit sad and it brought tears to our eyes’, said Ruth.

‘And God said “don’t stand there, do something”’.

So despite professing no green thumbs, the retired couple aged 86 and 83 respectively, did just that.

‘We took it on bit by bit’, they recall. This work continued until the entire garden was renovated.

‘As we are not fenced off from our neighbourhood, not only is it a testament to all the beauty of God’s creation, it provides a lovely wider witness to caring for God’s creation and the joy God gives us through serving each other’, says Bethlehem’s Pastor Matt Bishop.

‘Moreover, on a late-October day when the roses are in their first full flush of the season, you can smell the delightful scents all around our block. Accordingly, we’ve had many positive comments from our neighbours, even from the local councillor.’

Who would have thought that a garden ministry could be created simply from proud perfumed stands of roses? From Double Delight to Cardinal and even Pope John Paul 2 varieties, the fragrant and sometimes cheeky choices now create a delightful and welcome experience for passers-by.

And with 66 years of marriage under their belts, the Schmidts are inseparable in their weekly toil – pruning, trimming, fertilising, watering and tidying.

‘We get an old pillow and kneel side by side – never too far from each other’, says Ruth. ‘We’re not good gardeners but we like to tidy up! And you’re never too old to learn.’

And they certainly feel like the Chief Gardener is with them, as they have learnt along the way how to care for the roses. ‘We are just presenting God’s creation’, says Ruth. ‘They are easy to manage and ever so beautiful.

‘When we come home, we are not tired, we feel great. We’ve been working in God’s creation.’

Ruth and Wally reflect how the Lord has blessed them, echoed in their favourite Psalm 103.

‘It’s not about us, it’s God’s creation. We are just going along, not wasting our time. He looks after us and gives our health as we present God’s creations.’

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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by Helen Beringen

Picture a bush picnic in breathtaking country at the foot of the Grampians mountain range in the Wimmera region of Victoria. But add to that the crunch of frost of midwinter early mornings and the challenge of chopping firewood before you can take a sip from the thermos and unwrap the sandwiches.

This is a regular winter pastime for a handful of hardy members of St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Stawell, a historic Victorian goldrush town.

Members of this woodchopping team, predominantly aged over 70, chop and sell firewood throughout the chilly winter months from May to September to help keep their 26-member strong congregation running, says congregational chairman and one of the team organisers John Simpkin.

On weekends they receive very welcome help from a couple of younger members, including John’s grandsons, Alex, 10, and Jamie, 8, who help with the loading and unloading of the big trailers. The fundraising scheme also literally brings warmth to the town, offering a great service to many community members, particularly older town residents reliant on wood heaters. And yes, temperatures can drop below zero in that part of the world!

But this country with its rolling, tree-studded hills is beautiful, and great for woodchoppers, thanks also to friendly farmers with fallen timber to spare, says John.

Since 2014 woodcutting has become a major fundraiser for the fellowship, which also supports chaplaincy programs at three local schools.

John, 76, and his team are experienced and well equipped with protective gear, chainsaws and wood splitters.

John’s wife of 53 years, Lorraine, 75, is the fellowship treasurer. Lorraine takes the orders which determine whether the band of woodchoppers sets out twice a week or once a fortnight, depending on demand.

They’ve been invited to collect wood at several properties, including one owned by a local Uniting Church member, with part proceeds donated to that church.

‘This is another way of letting people know that the Lutheran church is here in Stawell and happy to help people in the community’, John says.

It has also become a major financial support for the ageing congregation. John and Lorraine, both retired teachers who have called Stawell home for about 40 years, have witnessed the change in the congregation’s size and age profile, as happens in many rural areas.

‘Almost all of the younger members of our families have left the area to complete their education and have then found employment in other areas’, John says. ‘In 2002 the congregation had 74 active communing members with almost 30 members in paid employment. We now have about 26 active communing members and, of these, only six are in paid employment.

‘This decline has made it extremely difficult for our congregation to meet our budget requirements and so a variety of extra fundraising ventures have been created to help cover the gap.’

The hard work of the woodcutters has almost evened out that shortfall.

But their ultimate optimism is reflected in John’s favourite Bible verses from Romans 8, reminding them that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It certainly shows that being God’s salt and light in the community takes many forms. Whether through chopping wood in near-zero temperatures, promoting the Christian message of Christmas, or lobbying to restore a historical organ, God’s light can shine into our world wherever he places us.

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

Subscribe here to receive stories & upcoming issues in full

by Helen Beringen

It was a baptism of fire raining down on the head of Elisabeth Clarke that sparked her unique ministry almost a decade ago.

Well, it was actually a box of about 50 cardboard cut-out candles falling from a box that caused her (pre-) light bulb moment. At the time the active retiree was baptismal co-ordinator for Immanuel Lutheran Church at Gawler, north of Adelaide.

Then it hit her – the box of candles. The decorations had fallen onto her head from a cupboard in her small church office. Thankfully, no damage was done.

But it got her thinking. The candle decorations, now scattered on the carpet, appeared just in time for the upcoming Pentecost Sunday.

‘I thought “Holy smoke, I might just use these candles somehow”’, she says. And so they went up around the church foyer, becoming her first display.

So began a ministry that has created inviting and interesting spaces in church foyers – areas which Elisabeth says are often relegated to being busy, cluttered storage spaces.

Her displays have ranged from seasonal wall-mounted decorations and brightly coloured posters, to inviting displays of tracts for people to take. In her current congregation of Immanuel, North Adelaide, Elisabeth has made a large wooden cross – which she found sitting unused in a corner – the centrepiece of her all foyer displays.

‘I made Christ the centre of everything I did’, she says.

Elisabeth says the concept of presenting a peaceful space to all who enter is a way of blessing everyone who walks through the church doors.

Her prayer is that foyers will not be a forgotten entrance but used to share welcoming messages about the church and its seasons, such as Lent, Easter, Advent and Christmas.

She has even included displays of stolls, the ecclesiastical vestments worn around pastors’ shoulders. Elisabeth, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, has shared the beauty of those raiments in many a display.

Elisabeth’s work has also shown that foyers can provide great mission support. ‘I used to have tracts displayed hanging from tree branches and sitting underneath. People would pick up tracts and share them with friends’, she says. ‘It was like a little mission outreach in the foyer.’

And now, as some congregations slowly reopen their doors to worship, the challenge will be how we can ensure our entry spaces become inviting, peaceful spaces again.

‘It’s a real challenge, in the current circumstances’, says Elisabeth. ‘Going forward, as our churches reopen, how can we bless people walking through the door?’

Taking the time to think about what the foyer can do to inspire people to feel comfortable within their church family is key, she says.

‘We are inviting people into a place of peace. When they come in and out of church they always feel that sense of peace … it has a good feeling about it’, she says.

Her efforts are reflected in her favourite hymn, based on the prayer of Francis of Assisi, ‘Make me a channel of your peace’ (Lutheran Hymnal no. 858).

‘It comes back to God being in this heart of this,’ Elisabeth says.

Seeking advice on how you can create a welcoming church foyer? Email Elisabeth at elizabethstolz5@bigpond.com or phone her on 0447 250 202.

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

Subscribe here to receive stories & upcoming issues in full