One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. – Psalm 145:4 (NIV)
In January 1982, Mike and Tess Fontenot, and Gerry and Jeannie Fredrick packed up their lives and their children and moved from the US to plant a church in Sydney, Australia. Church services made up of four disciples (and many children) were not smooth sailing. Gerry would do the welcome, communion, and song leading, Mike would preach, and Tess and Jeannie would try to prevent the kids from interfering too much.
Last month, the Sydney Church of Christ celebrated the 40th anniversary of that planting with a service of about 500 people praising God for his good works and his faithfulness. This service looked quite different to those early ones – much more variety in line up, children safely tucked away in kids’ kingdom – but one thing remained the same. Mike Fontenot preached to the church he had built and led by the grace of God, in his final sermon on ministry staff.
Mike preached Ephesians 3, reminding us of the glory of suffering for Christ, urging the church to strengthen the inner man as Paul describes, and encouraging us that God is working for his glory in Sydney. Will and Chelsea Thorne, who now lead the Sydney Church, gave Mike and Tess a gift on behalf of all the members – a bench with a plaque inscribed with Daniel 12:3 – “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” The church has been so blessed by Mike and Tess’s leadership to righteousness, and we praise God for their love and service to us.
Other memorable moments included video tributes sent from early members who live overseas, and the lineup made up of disciples converted in the 80s in Sydney, reminiscing about raising their families and spreading the gospel together 40 years ago. Peter and Gayle Boardman, who were converted in 1983, opened the service. Their story exemplified the theme of the service, “Generation to Generation,” as Peter’s mother, both their daughters and two of their grandchildren have all since made Jesus Lord. All the members from the first “Bring Your Neighbor” service was asked to come on stage and were honored for their continuing faith and service over the last four decades. We are so blessed in Sydney to have such a faithful backbone of the church made up of older Christians such as these.
After the service, we celebrated with food, live music, face painting, and fellowship. The end of 2022 marks an exciting time for the Sydney Church, with over 400 members and 15 people on staff. Will and Chelsea Thorne lead the church and the North Region, Steven, and Melanie Darvodelsky lead the West Region, and Howard Cheng and Sara Hancell lead the South Region.
We are also so excited for Ben and Brooke Mey to plant the Newcastle Church of Christ at the end of this year with a great team of disciples from the Sydney Church. Praise God for his kindness and mercy, congratulations Mike and Tess on your retirement, and thank you Sydney Church for your love, perseverance, and faith over the last 40 years. We are looking forward to the next 40!