This is the story of Pastor Albert Ewald Reuther, born at Bethesda mission, South Australia, in 1892. After completing his seminary training at Neuendettelsau in Germany, he was called to serve the Western Australian home mission field in 1913, where he joined his stepbrother, who had been working there since 1907.
We’ll begin, however, at his retirement farewell in the Murgon town hall, Queensland, 50 years later.
The evening was 18 September, 1963. Spilling onto the street, more than 700 people were in attendance, including locals, parishioners, dignitaries and representatives of denominations and shire councils. Proceedings included a devotion, singing of Now thank we all our God and an address by Murgon Shire Council chairman, Councillor Krebs. It was a variety-packed night, which Reuther described as ‘a programme to our liking’. Included were musical and vocal items from the Murgon Salvation Army band, the Murgon-Wondai minister’s fraternal and the Lutheran Young Peoples’ Society. Naturally, there was a farewell address from Albert Reuther himself.
According to a report in the Kingaroy Herald, however, the real highlight was ‘a bracket of numbers on an organ by Mrs Reuther. But this was no ordinary organ, as the organist was no ordinary person. This was a portable instrument over 50 years old, bought in the early days of his ministry by the Pastor for “the princely sum of fifty shillings” and which the Pastor carried strapped to his back for many years as he moved by foot, push bike and motor cycle on his rounds, both here in the South Burnett and in [Western] Australia.’
Why was a portable organ required? At the time—Christmas 1913—Albert was ministering to 2500 Lutherans in the Western Australian mission field, together with his step-brother Paul Stolz. This sizeable field spread from Geraldton to Bunbury and east to Menzies, and Albert had to travel the whole lot.
Paul Stolz’s 1907 report followed the railway line: Stolz ministered to Scandinavians working in sawmills but had difficulty with the Swedes and Norwegians, who were not competent in English. Persisting, he requested service orders from Sweden. In Bunbury he ministered to sailors; seven miles from Busselton, in remote bushland, a family requested his urgent ministry; then 20 miles beyond York he encountered anglicised Germans but withdrew, because ’there is no real mission field there’; in Leonora he found three or four families.
Stolz and Reuther’s work benefitted from a subsidised annual railway travel scheme for churches. This allowed unlimited train travel and included complimentary provisions for taking along a bicycle. It enabled Albert to travel by train across the mission field and then cycle from Lutheran enclave or worship point to worship point. It followed that he wanted a musical instrument to assist his ministry, especially, as he recounted later in his memoir, that he was ‘a little musical’ and ‘didn’t like to sing without an organ’ (Some church history and reminiscences by Rev AE Reuther).
On one occasion he missed the train and had to ride 80 miles in one day.
The work of Stolz and Reuther was supported from Germany by the Lutheran ‘Gotteskasten’ or church societies in different regions, who provided financial assistance to Lutheran pastors of dispersed congregations. But the outbreak of World War I ended this arrangement. Sadly, the Immanuel Synod could not afford to continue ministry in Western Australia. Stolz went to America in protest at Immanuel Synod giving up the field and Reuther was called to Queensland in 1915.
Three days shy of his twenty-third birthday, Albert Reuther began what would be 48 years of ministry in the South Burnett region, beginning at Cloyna, Mondure and Taabinga. The area rapidly expanded. By 1963 the South Burnett had grown to encompass three self-supporting parishes and one home mission field, which together was made up of 12 congregations and 21 preaching places.
For the first eight years of his Queensland ministry, Pastor Reuther travelled by a single-speed bike (bought in Kingaroy with money loaned to him by Pastor Theile), train, sulky and motorbike. His Western Australian bike, on which he had ridden 9000 miles, was sold on to Pastor Heinrich Wilhelm Prenzler. Pastor Prenzler rode a further 14,000 miles on it during his Kingaroy ministry, beginning in 1923. Albert acquired his first car, a Model T Ford, also in 1923.
Conditions were tough. Albert remembered what ministry on his bike was like: ‘I would just like to say here that the roads were not highways, but byways, just tracks, and when you think that a person had to carry his books, his gown, pyjamas, and a bug bag [a calico bag in which to sleep protected from insects], there is no room for another suit. I often wondered what the ladies thought of me. I never changed my suit, from Saturday to Monday.’
Following the advent of petrol rationing in World War II, Albert again travelled his field by bike. At the same time, a request was made for the use of an instrument by the army chaplain ministering to servicemen in the Murgon area. Albert lent his portable reed organ, which was fitted with a makeshift pedal for easier use.
Albert maintained a detailed diary of his ministry. In 50 years of Queensland ministry, he travelled 10,000 miles each by bicycle and horse and sulky; 8000 miles by motorcycle, 500 miles by horseback and ‘shanks’s pony’ [on foot], multiple thousand miles by train and 297,000 miles by car. Across these distances he baptised 1339 infants, married 431 couples, confirmed 969 people, buried 262 and held 6419 worship services. A marvellous feat, don’t you think?
Rachel Kuchel is LCA Archivist.