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Preach for the stars and get rewarded

PREACH: Pastor Stuart McIlwraith was rewarded for his tireless efforts to support his community by being awarded Citizen of the Year award. Photo: Stuart McIlwraith

PREACH: Pastor Stuart McIlwraith was rewarded for his tireless efforts to support his community by being awarded Citizen of the Year award. Photo: Stuart McIlwraith

Stuart McIlwraith may have been awarded Citizen of the Year for 2022, but he said his success and impact in the Ceduna community was a team effort.

"We're part of a team, it's not just me, I'm only the guy who gets the glory," he said.

Mr McIlwraith is convinced church is "not just a Sunday thing".

"You come along, you feel good when you leave and 20 minutes later you're back to normal," he said.

"It's (the church) got to be a benefit to the community and help people change their lives - we've tried to make our church so the community is happy because of us."

He, with his wife Heather and three children, moved to Ceduna in 1990 to establish a church and provide support to Ceduna and surrounding districts.

Once it was established, the family worked hard to provide emergency food and accommodation relief, counselling and youth work.

Today, about 1,200 people rely on the church for their emergency services per year, members of the church hold services in Oak Valley, Koonibba and Scotdesco and help smaller churches in the APY Lands.

Mr McIlwraith started off preaching just to his wife and three children, but now has three pastors and the church is one of the biggest in the area.

The church now has its own building on Smith Road and the couple are looking to expand to cater up to 300 attendees and the growing interest from younger people.

"The plan was in three years we'd call a proper pastor and get on with life, but we haven't called a proper pastor yet - I am the proper pastor," he said.

The Ceduna District Council awarded him Citizen of the Year for 2022 to acknowledge his passion for helping communities and going "over and above his duties as a Minister of Religion".

"When the mayor came, I couldn't actually believe it... I said, 'okay, but what are you really here for?'" he said.

Originally from Borrika, a small Murray Mallee town with a population of 12, Mr McIlwraith and his wife were on the hunt to find somewhere with better opportunities for their children when they decided on settling in Ceduna.

"Heather and I drove right around South Australia and we got to Ceduna and it felt like home," he said.

"We arrived one night and my kids found there were 20 other kids on our street, whereas they were the only children in Borrika, so it made it for them."

On top of his charitable efforts, he has deliberately advocated for local churches to work closely together and set aside competitiveness for a common goal.

"Yes, we're different," Mr McIlwraith said.

"We don't always agree, but I've been married 47 years and I still can't get my wife to agree with me... But that doesn't man there is anything wrong or bad, they're just things we're different on."