Pastor Thomas Beneke, Newcastle
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. 1 Cor. 15: 58.
50 days after Easter/Pentecost/the[GU1] birthday of the church, 50 years since the foundation of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in Newcastle, the combined Vryheid/Uelzen/Newcastle Mission-Festival and the dedication of a new classroom building serving both the Sunday School and St Martin’s Village Kindergarten – there were many reasons to remember and to give thanks last Sunday. Just over 150 people helped us to do that: previous members and pastors and/or their families, members from Uelzen and Vryheid, members from our neighbouring LCSA congregation in Madadeni and Osizweni, current members and guests of the congregation and children and their families from the SMV Kindergarten. It was a wonderful day.
The preparations started weeks before, but really got going on Sunday morning: finishing touches were added to collages with pictures of the congregation’s life together over the last fifty years and of the pastors who served them in this time, braai stands were loaded with charcoal and readied to prepare lunch – thank you Uelzen for the donation of sausages! -, tables set for the honoured, senior guests, chairs spread out, lists kept of new arrivals (following Covid-19 protocol), last checks done on the new streaming and sound setup, etc. At 9.30 the brass band started playing outside and by 10.00 most people had found their place: some inside the small church, others on the veranda and still others outside, enjoying the winter sun.
The divine service started with the hymn: All people that on earth do dwell … – Psalm 100 set to song. The Pastors Gevers (Vryheid), Hiestermann (Uelzen) and Weber (Durban) read the readings for Pentecost: Old Testament – Genesis 11: 1-9 (Babel), Epistle – Acts 2: 1-21 (Pentecost) and Gospel – John 14: 23-31 (the Paraclete). Before the children joined their Sunday School teachers they were surprised with a birthday cake, sporting 50 candles. Mission Representative Weber preached on the Old Testament reading, warning us not to place too much trust in human empire-building, schemes, technology and progress, but to rather trust in the faithfulness of God’s word and promises. Our new live-streaming setup helped bring home the point by crashing every few minutes, gifting our hard-working operator Marcel Böhmer with a few grey hairs.
About half an hour was reserved at the end of the service for remembering and giving thanks for God’s faithfulness in the past. Elder Lutz Böhmer[GU2] had prepared different slides, for the service of each of the pastors of the congregation: Pastor Scharlach (Lüneburg) 1964-1967, Albers (Uelzen) 1967-1974, Werner Köhne (Uelzen) 1974-1978, Siegfried Köhne (Newcastle, Panbult & Vryheid) 1978-1985, Pastor Schulz (Newcastle, Panbult & Vryheid) 1985- 1988, Pastor Helmut Straeuli (Uelzen) and missionary Harry Niebuhr (Enhlanhleni) 1988-1989, Pastor Marc Haessig (Vryheid & Newcastle) 1989-1994, Pastor Günther Hohls (Vryheid & Newcastle) 1994-2008, Pastor Michael Ahlers (Vryheid & Newcastle) 2008-2012, Pastor Rüdiger Gevers (Vryheid & Newcastle) 2012-2015 and Pastor/Missionary Thomas Beneke (Newcastle) 2016-. Besides many read[GU3] words of greeting and encouragement and even one video message from Pastor Ahlers (currently in Wiesbaden, Germany), Pastor Siegfried Köhne gave us a lively insight into their early hard-working years in Newcastle, having been the first pastor stationed here. He encouraged us with the above words of[GU4] St Paul taken from his well-known resurrection chapter. The service ended with the singing of Martin Luther’s: ”Lord keep us steadfast in Your word…”
Lunch followed the service, with wors-rolls, cake and coffee enjoyed by all. Now it was time to dedicate the new, big classroom, by hearing[GU5] God’s word and dedicating it to His use in prayer. Here follows the dedication devotion – an application of Psalm 100: Buildings like this one serve one purpose – that the generations might know our Lord’s faithfulness, steadfast love and goodness. Because, like sheep, we often do stupid things and have a tendency to run after false shepherds, every generation needs to be reminded by the Good Shepherd that they are His – His people, His creation. We need to get to know His voice. He is our God, not ourselves. It is often easier for children to realise this. Easier than for us, jaded adults. If children know that someone else is in charge, and that this person has their best interests at heart, they generally go about their business with thankfulness, joy and exuberance – playing, growing, learning and creating – all the while making a joyful noise to the Lord. My office is on the other side of the fence. I know, there is a lot of joyful noise being produced here, especially on the playground. So, in many ways we will learn from the children what living before God means. What it means to be a congregation. What it means to be a family. Yes, what it means to be children of God, called by His name, redeemed by His Son, made holy by His Spirit. I thank God for everyone who put their time, effort, talent, passion, sweat, tears and last but not least, money, towards creating this space. May God richly bless You!
After representatives of the Congregation’s Children’s Ministry, Nicola Talanda, and of the SMV Kindergarten, teachers Irma Nel and Sheena Stoop, cut a ribbon, children from the Sunday School and Kindergarten sang “The love of Jesus is so wonderful…” and “Crown Him with many crowns…” A tree-planting ceremony followed. 40 years ago Pastor Köhne, Mister Arnold Talanda and others dug holes in the ouklip/bedrock on the church property with a jack-hammer in order to plant trees. In the meantime some of these trees had died. Now they had the opportunity to replant them with the help of the Sunday school- and Kindergarten children. Planting a tree speaks of hope for the future. And even if these trees are thorny (acacia karoo/sweet thorn), they also provide sweetness and shade. Mr Talanda also helped reveal an iron ‘resurrection-cross’ constructed and fixed on one of the new walls by Dieter Wichman and Frans van Zyl. This cross is clearly visible from the pastor’s office and reminds him of the task at hand.
We thank God and His servants for the last 50 years and also for a wonderful Sunday! May He continue to bless His people, here in Newcastle and beyond.