What do you do when you have a large family and no local Lutheran church? Build a church on your own farm, of course! And when those children move off the farm to town? Take the church building with you—brick by brick.
That’s what happened in the remarkable story of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Narrogin, Western Australia. This year, that building turned 100 years old.
It all began with William and Auguste Lange (nee Günther) and their sizeable family of ten sons and two daughters. In 1903, after several years of drought, the Lange family decided to leave Melrose in South Australia and move to Western Australia, where farming prospects appeared to be better. They took up land at Wardering (now Ockley) near Narrogin. By 1905 William Lange and his sons held 2428 hectares (6000 acres) between them. They erected a dwelling and various buildings on a property which they called Langsville.
The remote location and time-consuming tasks of clearing the land and establishing themselves could have been seen by some as reasons not to attend worship. But William Lange made it a priority, contacting Pastor Edwin Fischer in Perth and asking him to provide the first services at Langsville soon after the family’s arrival.
The Lutheran church in Western Australia was itself only a fledgling, having established its first few congregations in 1901. From Perth, Pastor Fischer served far-flung congregations at Kalgoorlie, Albany, Fremantle and Katanning, as well as holding services elsewhere. Once a month he would come by train to Narrogin and then cycle 30 kilometres to Wardering, to serve the Langsville Lutherans. Other itinerant pastors followed in his steps (or perhaps we should say, bike tracks) over the next few years: Pastors H D Mensing, J E Hansen and H H Wolters.
On 7 June 1911, the Langsville congregation officially came into being, consisting mainly of the Lange family themselves. Worship was held in the homestead, with family members acting as lay readers, in between services conducted by Pastor John Moody from Katanning.
As William and Auguste’s children married and began their own families on adjoining farms, the need for
a larger worship space became more pressing. They solved this problem by constructing their own brick- and iron-roof church near the homestead, costing 286 pounds, 18 shillings and sixpence. It was dedicated on 28 February 1915 by Pastor Moody, who was assisted by Pastor Rudolph Graebner. School lessons were held in the vestry, until a separate school was built nearby in 1920.
Despite the isolated location, Langsville was not immune to the effects of World War I. Towards the end of 1916 Pastor Graebner visited the congregation to advise them to discontinue ‘German services, which have caused, and are still causing much ill feeling and hatred in our midst since the war’.
The Great Depression of the 1920s and difficult farming circumstances saw some sons gradually sell their farms and move away, some to local towns like Narrogin. In the early 1940s, as more and more congregation members lived in Narrogin, it was decided to hold services there, initially in the Lesser Town Hall, and then for many years in Albert Lange’s home.
Planning for a new church began in 1951, but given that there were only 19 members and the estimated building cost was 3000 pounds, the congregation realised they could not afford a new building. But what to do? Ingeniously, they decided to dismantle the old Langsville church and relocate it at Narrogin, using as many of the original materials as possible.
This mighty task fell to five men: Harry, Geoff, Albert and Herbert Lange, and Claude Blyth. In a number of ‘busy bees’ (surely a most understated term for what was involved) the church was dismantled, brick by brick, and then re-erected in 1953 at its present site at the corner of Lock Street and Narrakine Road. The volunteer labour kept the building cost to 1700 pounds. Many of the furnishings came from the old church, while the altar, font, lectern and even the block of land for the church were generously donated.
And so on 25 July 1954, a cold and wet Sunday morning, the ‘new’ Trinity Lutheran Church in Narrogin was dedicated. After a hymn and prayer outside the building, Albert Lange handed the church keys to Pastor Lionel Janetzki. Pastor Rudolph Graebner again officiated at the dedication service, echoing his role at Langsville almost 40 years before. Mrs Mullineaux from Katanning was the organist.
Lutherans came from all parts of the south-west of Western Australia, some from as far as 275 kilometres away. Around 150 people managed to fit inside the church but many others were forced to worship outside. The Narrogin Observer (30 July 1954) summed up the event’s significance:
‘It was a great day for Lutherans in this district who saw the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream and their efforts may be compared to that of the early Lutherans who battled so hard to establish their own way of worship … the accomplishment of so great a task by so small a community.’
This church dedication was captured by Narrogin local CJ Comini in his film A church is reborn—a film we hold at Lutheran Archives. This year Trinity congregation, Narrogin, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the church building that has served them in two different locations. As part of their thanksgiving celebrations, they have sponsored the digitisation of this film so that this part of our history can be preserved for future generations.
Can you help in saving one of the other remarkable stories captured on our films? Find out more at www.lca.org/seeds
Janette Lange is Assistant Archivist at Lutheran Archives.
Correction: In the article ‘A hearty welcome and new beginning’ (June 2015) one of our photo captions stated that the Bonegilla Migrant Centre was ‘near Albury in New South Wales’—but it is, in fact, in Victoria. Thanks to those who pointed this out to us. We endeavour to have all our facts correct but sometimes errors slip through. If you notice any or have an alternative side to the story that you would like to share, please contact us (as we like to have the record straight).