A current of energy ran through the air, for it was a much-anticipated day. It was 120 years, two months and thirteen days in the making, or (if you like) 43,903 days.
Much prayer had gone into the day, you can be sure of that. Seventeen years of joint prayer, according to Everard Leske’s history of Lutherans in Australia, For Faith and Freedom (Openbook, 1996). There had been decades more of individual prayers all across the nation and the Lutheran world (I’d guess 43,903 days of prayer). Mixed with the excitement and energy was, understandably, some trepidation as to what this day meant: changing the status quo required courage and faith for the future, though I am sure it was tinged with some sadness at leaving the familiar.
They saw in this institution the fulfilment of prayers ascending to the throne on high over many long years. They realised that nothing would cement the union of the Lutheran churches of this land more than one seminary.
The day didn’t dawn bright. Instead, it threatened rain. And yet 10,000 Lutherans gathered together. United. One church. One faith. One Lord.
Have you guessed what day it is yet? The anniversary weekend of Luther’s reformation, chosen specifically for this momentous occasion. It is the second day of the constituting convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia, 30 October 1966, and the day of the Sunday services, held at 10.00 am and 2.00 pm; replete with brass bands, hymn singing, choral anthems and
a thanksgiving offering.
Synod had opened the day before with a communion service, the certification by presidents and the ceremony of joining hands. Resolutions regarding amalgamation of the ELCA and UELCA were made and passed and the new constitution of the LCA was adopted. The certification by presidents required ELCA President Dr H D Koehne to certify the following for his synod: ‘As President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia Inc it is my privilege to certify to the Constituting Convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia Inc has fulfilled the pledge given in the Document of Union to unite with the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia Inc and adopted the Constitution of the Lutheran Church of Australia’. UELCA president Dr M Lohe made a similar declaration on behalf of his synod.
With this the Lutheran Church of Australia was born. Greetings came from around the world: New Guinea, the Philippines, England, Wisconsin, Missouri and the Lutheran World Federation. According to the official report of the first LCA convention, it was resolved that a letter or cable be sent to Her Majesty the Queen, through the Governor-General, ‘informing her of events leading up to our re-union and the formation under God of the Lutheran Church of Australia, and pledging our continued allegiance and prayer for herself as sovereign, and also for the Governor-General, State Governors, territory Administrators, and all who hold authority under the Crown’.
With 43,903 days between the first schism in August 1846 (which resulted in the first synodical division) and the uniting of the ELCA and UELCA synods in 1966, a great thanksgiving project was required to glorify God for his steadfastness, his grace and his mercy. As noted in For Faith and Freedom, the thanksgiving project suggested by the Joint Union Committee was the unification of the Immanuel Seminary (UELCA) and the Concordia Seminary (ELCA). The constituting convention report confirms that this project had already been resolved by the ELCA at its 1965 convention, and by the UELCA at its 1956 convention. Properties surrounding the Immanuel Seminary at North Adelaide were to be purchased, and ideally all buildings renovated with the exception of the library, as this had been built just six years prior. The architectural services of Lutheran Eric von Schramek, (who was later knighted) were used. He knew it was a great honour to undertake this work, and later reflected that it was a real highlight of his career, in his biography Reminiscences: Sir Eric von Schramek and his churches (compiled Helen Gordon, Lutheran Archives, 2007).
At the 1966 constituting convention, on day number 43,905 (otherwise known as Tuesday 1 November 1966) the thanksgiving project was passed and launched. Page 25 of the official convention report notes that offerings at the synod services amounted to $6734.14, to be shared between mission and the seminary.
And then, on 3 March 1968 at 3.00 pm, the thanksgiving project was dedicated by President Dr Max Lohe—virtually debt-free! Future pastors of the church, coming from separate synods, would now worship, study and live together, reported The Lutheran on 25 March 1968. The lecturers were installed. The Tanunda Band accompanied the lusty hymns, including specially written trumpet fanfares.
In its 26 February issue, The Lutheran reported that a choir of 40 voices would sing at the dedication under the conductorship of James Thiele. At the same event, Dr H P Hamann said: ‘As an undertaking devoted to a human work this Seminary would be a monument to futility; as an undertaking devoted to the work of God this Seminary will be one of the really important buildings of Adelaide’. Editor of The Lutheran, Rev E W Wiebusch, wrote that ‘many took the challenge of [the thanksgiving project] very seriously; this new seminary was to be a real thank-offering for Lutheran union. They saw in this institution the fulfilment of prayers ascending to the throne on high over many long years. They realised that nothing would cement the union of the Lutheran churches of this land more than one seminary.’
Rachel Kuchel is LCA Archivist.
How can we continue to give thanks for God’s grace and our Lutheran unity through this story? Lutheran Archives has original 8- and 16-millimetre film footage of this dedication and of the union services. We have 140 films in our collection in urgent need of digitisation. Please continue to give thanks to God and remember his faithfulness to us by giving to our $60,000 ‘Seeds that Sprout’ film digitisation appeal. Each film costs $350 to digitise. Visit www.lca.org.au/seeds