Around 400 people gathered at Hermannsburg, in Central Australia, earlier this month to mark 140 years since a Lutheran mission was established at the site on the Finke River.
On 8 June 1877, missionaries Schwarz and Kempe crossed to the northern bank of the river, 125 kilometres west-southwest of Alice Springs. They dug a well and found fresh water, which they took as God’s will for them to end their 18-month, 1600 kilometre trek from Bethany in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
The anniversary celebrations at the Aboriginal community that locals call Ntaria began with the launch of a CD reproducing a 1965 recording of 10 songs under the title Campfire Concert.
A time capsule placed behind the foundation stone when Bethlehem Lutheran Church was built in the mid-1960s, was opened to reveal pre-decimal currency coins, a 1965 Alice Springs newspaper, the Lutheran church’s bi-monthly periodical Lutheran Herald, a list of church officials and a local Sunday bulletin.
Mrs Olga Radke, whose late husband Doug was pastor at Hermannsburg when the ‘new’ church opened, had added contents to the glass jar time capsule and was on hand again for its opening as part of the anniversary weekend on 3 and 4 June.
The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Hermannsburg Choir tour to South Australia and Victoria, which Pastor Radke led, was also recognised with a photographic display.
Pastor Hans Oberscheidt, who served at Hermannsburg from 1985 to 1991, preached for the anniversary service, while Aranda pastors Marcus Wheeler and Rodney Malbunka and Aranda Pastoral Support Worker Ingkaarta Neville Doecke led other parts of worship.
Ingkaarta Neville said the strongest legacy across 140 years since the early missionaries was the firm faith of many local Aboriginal people today. ‘We give praise and thanks to God for leading missionaries and Aboriginal evangelists and pastors to teach, preach, baptise and share God’s holy word during the past 140 years’, he said.
Recently the ABC’s religious affairs program Compass visited Central Australia, including Ntaria/Hermannsburg, to film an episode about the work of Finke River Mission (FRM). The episode, which screens on 1 July and can be viewed in Australia on ABC iview, covers the mission’s history, a bush training camp for Indigenous pastors and evangelists, a look at present day church and community life in Ntaria/Hermannsburg, and interviews with indigenous Lutheran pastors, evangelists, choir members, and FRM pastoral support workers.