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Queensland's Freestone Uniting Church changes service times to help region's dairy farmers

Elly Bradfield, Sunday March 15, 2020 - 11:42 EDT
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Churchgoers sing at a service in the southern Queensland town of Freestone. - ABC

Not exactly a case of a cow stuck in a well, but milking times were depleting the congregation at Freestone Uniting Church on Queensland's Southern Downs — until service times were shifted.

The drought had already left its mark on many dairy farmers in the area, so the church moved its service to 2:00pm to at least avoid clashes with milking times and it has lifted spirits.

Fifth-generation dairy farmer Phillip Christensen said the demands of dairy farming had made it difficult for him to get to church at all.

"It's helpful," he said of the service time change.

"It didn't mean I had to get out of bed at ridiculous hours to get to church.

"They used to have church about nine o'clock [in the morning], so it was a bit hard to make it at times."

Lots of horror stories

Reverend Ansie Liebenberg said the pews filled quickly, and it was good timing because many needed support through the drought.

"Some of them slept very little, and you could actually see how some of them started to carry the burdens of the stress and the strain," she said.

"We have had stories about children on the farm who have not bathed or had their clothes washed.

"There were lots of horror stories."

Mr Christensen said the drought had gone on longer than anyone expected and he felt the toll.

"I'm not one to talk to people and talk to them about my problems, so I go to church and talk to a higher authority," he said.

"This drought we had two plantings of summer and winter crops and they both failed back in 2018, and we couldn't grow anything for the cows."

He said two other churches in the district closed, and it was important to him to preserve the 165-year-old building.

'It was just right'

Lynette and Graeme Parkinson said the church's revival was perfect timing after the pair, a widow and widower, met and fell in love in their 80s.

"We got married here in this church a year ago," Ms Parkinson said.

"Shocked the family, shocked us all I suppose.

"We had a lot of onlookers. It was a lovely day. It was just right."

Mr Parkinson said: "They say you should marry your best friend, and she was my best friend".

The couple said married life was "very good".

Many hands make renovations light work

Mr Christensen said it "felt really good" to see people come back to the church.

"There might have been three or four people at some church services at times, and now the building's full every time they have a service," he said.

Reverend Ansie Liebenberg said with the influx of new churchgoers, they quickly realised they needed to refurbish the rundown building — and had willing hands at the ready.

"They were starting to come and then we were like, OK, the building is falling apart a little," she said.

"It was so depressing to be on the farms, but when they came and worked here they could see how things were changing and transforming, and it gave them something to do that gave them hope.

"We were planting gardens in the middle of the drought, and we were renovating buildings in the middle when everybody was closing down."


© ABC 2020

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