How do we inspire others? We might role-model good behaviours or share inspiring stories, but sometimes it just involves sharing our passions – or following a rainbow!
For the ladies guild of St Paul’s Nhill, in Western Victoria, it was as simple as following the example of the Rainbow congregation more than 20 years ago, when they were inspired to share the true meaning of Christmas with their local community in regional Victoria.
Wendy Sherwell, now 67, and Lorraine Janetzki, 80, from St Paul’s were returning from a visit to the first Christmas tree exhibition at St Stephen Lutheran Church, Rainbow, 60 kilometres north-east of Nhill, when the inspiration hit.
‘Driving back home, Lorraine and I felt inspired to start one at St Paul’s Nhill. We had a lovely hall, the perfect venue’, Wendy recalls.
The aim was to share the joy of Christmas while raising money for mission. Now approaching its 21st birthday, that mission remains to this day. Over the years the group has raised more than $70,000 for mission; over the past two to three years they have raised about $5000 to $6000 annually.
All funds go to local and overseas mission. At least half goes to projects of Australian Lutheran World Service, with the remainder supporting groups including The Leprosy Mission, Lutheran Bible translators Margaret Mickan and Hanna Schulz, as well as a range of Lutheran Women of Victoria projects.
‘Our first exhibition was held in 1999, with the theme “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and involved people from our congregation’, Wendy says.
What began with 40 exhibits now involves well over 80, with the annual exhibition including a wide range of community members and groups, such as the Country Women’s Association and the local Anglican parish.
For the small community 400 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, the exhibition in the church hall attracts hundreds of visitors from across the region over three days from Friday evening to Sunday on the Advent weekend.
A nativity scene features on the stage in the church hall. No Santas are allowed. Instead, visitors are offered the true Christmas message through tracts from the Lutheran Tract Mission, as well as scrumptious scones for Devonshire afternoon tea. Wendy makes about 500 scones each year, and demand is growing: ‘I’ve been known to be up until two o’clock in the morning making scones’.
Most exhibits are homemade decorated trees. Local artists are also involved, through showcasing their beautiful artwork, always with a Christian theme.
‘We are so grateful and indebted to all the creative and talented folk in our community who make this special event happen each year’, Wendy says.
Wendy’s mum, Dorothy Gosling, 95, has exhibited at the event for the past 15 years, since she moved to Nhill. Last year Dorothy’s masterpiece included butterfly decorations made with sweet wrappers, reflecting a common exhibition theme of reuse and recycling.
It is an event with a big heart, remembering not only ‘the reason for the season’. A local Woorak district parishioner Debbie Pohlner, who lost her battle to cancer a few months prior to last year’s exhibition, was remembered in a special way at the 2018 event. In her honour, Debbie’s mum Rosie and mum-in-law Bev decorated trees with some beautiful decorations she had made while she was still able, along with decorations from previous years.
‘She loved the exhibition, and over the years she contributed many beautiful decorated trees; her decorations were perfection’, Wendy says.
While the St Paul’s guild of 10 to 12 ladies plan the event, the week leading up to it involves willing hands from across the St Paul’s parish and the wider community, who share the load of preparation, erecting trees and cooking.
‘Our stalls are laden with home goodies, including Christmas cakes and plum puddings made by Lorraine, as well as jams and relishes, fresh produce and plants’, Wendy says.
‘One of our ladies crochets rugs throughout the year, and the money from sales is donated to our funds. They are works of art.’
The team has received grants from the local Hindmarsh Shire to support the events, and earlier this year the exhibition was awarded ‘Event of the Year’ by the shire. Wendy is also grateful for the support of the local paper Nhill Free Press and the local ABC radio, which provides coverage prior to and after the event, as well as the funds sent to missions.
‘Lorraine and I have never lost our enthusiasm for it, and to have the support of our church and the wider community is such a blessing’, Wendy says. ‘We thank God for all the wonderful people.’
Most of all, she thanks God for the chance the ladies have to inspire visitors about the true meaning of Christmas: ‘What a wonderful gift we have in God’s only Son Jesus, whom he sent to redeem the world from sin. As John 3:16 reminds us, Jesus is the greatest Christmas present of all!’
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 firstname.lastname@example.org