Seasons come and seasons go, but through it all God has a plan for us.
For Helen Middelmann, her recent retirement from hospital chaplaincy means the end of another season. Though tinged with sadness, the change is part of a life richly blessed for the Canberra retiree with a range of seasons, each one bringing a budding blossom of promise.
It is God’s promise to walk alongside us, to be with us on the journey, to comfort us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. This promise, reflected above in one of Helen’s favourite Bible verses from 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, has been a touchstone throughout the 74-year-old’s career as a Christian pastoral carer.
‘Through all the seasons, the love of pastoral care has persisted’, she shares.
Her God-given gift for service has included a strong focus on working with people on the fringes, particularly with Canberra’s migrant and ageing communities. For the past 18 years she has been training counsellors in family therapy. After being invited to write and teach a unit on loss and grief for the interdenominational Australian Institute of Family Counselling, she has spent nearly two decades training counsellors in how best to minister to people who are dealing with grief.
A fluent German speaker, Helen has undertaken a range of voluntary and paid positions and has also been a volunteer migrant English tutor for many years.
She has a special love of Luke’s gospel, recalling Jesus’ ministry to people on the fringes, in which his healing touch allows outcasts to be drawn into community.
Helen uses the powerful image of Jesus, after the resurrection, walking with and listening to two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus, to reflect how Jesus walks alongside people for comfort and healing.
‘He basically listens and enters into their sorrow, and then when he is invited in to eat with them, he breaks bread and their eyes are opened’, she says.
‘So too, through the Spirit, Jesus in us walks alongside people, with God’s love, healing and caring.’
In Helen’s role as a chaplain and pastoral carer she has been privileged to walk alongside people, allowing God to bring them to a place where they can move forward, or die in peace.
‘It is an incredible privilege to be invited into that place, that walk, when you visit people. Sometimes it’s just a brief “How are you going?”, and sometimes you are invited into a sacred space.’
Helen began her professional life as a language teacher in Melbourne. She was a language student at Melbourne University when she met her husband of 52 years, Raoul, at the university’s German Club. He had come to Australia from Germany to work as an economic history tutor.
Brought up in the Presbyterian Church, she began worshipping in the Lutheran church after marrying. The family moved to Canberra in 1974 with their young family, their fourth child being born in the nation’s capital. Their children Richard, 51, Robert 49, Nicola, 46 and Miriam, 42, have blessed them with six grandchildren ranging in age from three to 22.
In 1990, she began working in pastoral care as a lay worker. She took a year-long counselling course in Canberra and in 1996 was granted a Lutheran World Federation scholarship to study for a master’s degree in family ministry and ageing at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, in the United States.
‘My passion is still pastoral care and I wanted to develop the skills to do pastoral care better’, Helen explains.
‘It was transformative really. The skills I learnt and the understanding and growth that I gained emotionally and spiritually was just fantastic.
‘Life and death and tragedy, they are the big issues. To be there in the way that enables us just “to be” is a gift of God. Encouraging people and listening to people can be so beautiful and enriching.’
A highlight of her service has been working with people on the fringes, whether they be migrants of Estonian, Latvian and German background, or ministering to the aged. ‘Fringe people are often migrants and elderly people who can become isolated as they age, become frail, and move into care’, she says.
And at her Immanuel congregation in suburban Woden, she is continuing the work of the late Pastor James and Eunita Pietsch, who also had a heart for those on the fringes. The congregational ministry with seniors, which began in the early 1990s, involves hosting quarterly seniors’ lunches.
‘Four times a year we have a 12 o’clock holy communion service in the hall, followed by a sit-down lunch catered for by about a dozen helpers’, Helen says.
These lunches attract seniors of different cultural backgrounds, mostly European. The approximately 30 to 40 people often include those whom Helen has met during hospital visits.
The highlights of the meal are the traditional continental cakes such as cheesecake, sour cherry cake, and cream cakes, which are served with tea and coffee.
‘It is certainly something they look forward to and really enjoy when they are there’, she says. ‘It’s gathering around the Lord’s table and the fellowship of the Lord.’