It happens quite frequently on a weekend that Ross and I will look at each other and remark that we really don't know how we would be surviving this move without our church family. In the whirlwind of the roller coaster emotions we have experienced, the difficulties on the work front for Ross, and the loneliness for loved ones back home, our church has been to us a steady and joyous source of strength, friendship, community, and fellowship with those of like faith. In spite of knowing that we plan to desert them in a couple years' time, the members have welcomed us with arms and hearts wide open. We marvel at their compassionate caring and generosity, and find difficulty expressing adequately our gratitude.
One Sunday after our weekly shared evening meal, I noticed the sun shining into the sanctuary. I happened to have my camera with me so I slipped in and took a few photos to share with you.
The sanctuary holds seven hundred people, and we have been told the pews would have been full up until the time of the second world war. Today the numbers are much, much smaller, around sixty on an average Sunday I think. The church likely would have closed altogether by now were it not for the merge with a Chinese congregation three decades or so ago. At first the two congregations maintained their separate identities, but gradually over time, and with some adjustment on both sides, the two became a unified whole.
The next picture shows how we keep warm in winter.
War memorials are a common sight in Australia, as I remember them to be in England. Each community seems to have their own statues and plaques in commemoration of the lives lost. The role of Australians in the first world war is especially poignant with the loss of 60,000 lives, a high number given the size of their population. They fought together with the soldiers from New Zealand, and were known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC. In 1915 they participated in an unsuccessful, costly campaign against the Turks on the Gallipoli peninsula. Today ANZAC Day is an important national holiday, bigger than Veteran's Day in the U.S. We are reminded of the sacrifice of those who gave their lives each Sunday morning.
There are occasional squabbles amongst the fourteen or so youth in the congregation, but for the most part they hang together in one large group from the two-year-old on up to age seventeen. We are so thankful that our kids love to attend both services on Sunday. They can be quite disappointed if we have to miss for one reason or another.
I have mentioned before that sharing an evening meal with others once a week has been such a great experience for our family. What I don't think I have mentioned that it is the older folks at our church who do all of the serving and cleaning up afterward. Occasionally I sweep the floor under the kids' table, but other than bringing a covered dish, that is all I contribute. It makes us feel quite spoiled, and occasionally, a bit guilty, but we do appreciate it.
This past Sunday we celebrated three birthdays, including our son's. The woman who makes sure there is a cake for each birthday, and who also organizes cards for every single person with a connection to the church, has lived more than nine decades. She serves as our local expert on public transportation as she knows pretty much every route and time table, but more importantly, she is the genuine embodiment of generosity, selflessness, and joy. She has a special place in her heart for children, especially the youngest member of our group, and he in turn adores her. The bond between them is a beautiful thing to witness. In short, she is, as an adult friend of ours said one Sunday when we were discussing her, "what I want to be when I grow up."