I recently visited St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Pittsworth, Queensland, for the 50th anniversary of laying the foundation stone of their church building. St Peter’s is one of many congregations formed after Lutherans came together as one church in 1966. Those were enthusiastic days of growth and planting new churches, while the post-war baby boom reached, and then passed, its peak.
St Peter’s had prepared a history book for the occasion; well-researched, engagingly written by local member Grant Uebergang, and laden with fascinating photographs. Tantalisingly, the title of the book is not what you would expect. Called Starts & Stumbles, it chronicles a tumultuous history of competitive mission, false starts and church closures. As one wit said over the celebratory lunch, ‘These days we talk about sheep stealing, but in those days they stole whole congregations!’ Lasting unity and a common purpose (one could add common sense) only arrived with the formation of the LCA.
I truly appreciate the honesty of the Pittsworth Lutherans. They don’t gloss over the sometimes not-so-savoury doings of their ancestors. Without laying accusations or making recriminations their history book just records things as they seem to have happened. It’s testimony to how these down-to-earth rural folk see things. I’m sure once some of them get to reading its 267 pages they will have a few hearty debates about its content. All power to that!
I had the privilege of preaching on the day, based on 1 Peter 2:4–10. I highlighted the church as a spiritual house, and believers as living stones, comparing the temporary building of steel, glass, timber and bricks with the temple the Holy Spirit is building. I pictured the St Peter’s congregation as God’s workshop in which he makes living stones from rubble previously dumped as useless.
Workshops are busy places, often cluttered with tools and unfinished projects. In a workshop it can be hard to visualise the finished product. If a congregation is God’s workshop, it won’t be pristine and neat. It will be littered with unfinished projects. The Spirit will be using his tools, such as God’s word, law and gospel, repentance, baptism and holy communion, to chisel and shape his living stones. You can check the overall design by looking at Jesus Christ, the cornerstone from which all the other stones take their measure. It’s a slow, painstaking process as the master artisan gives us a new form, perfectly shaped and aligned to fit into the cornerstone.
The image really took hold that anniversary day; during lunch many speakers referred to St Peter’s as God’s workshop, each telling some part of how they experienced it, warts and all. It was refreshingly honest and reminded me of why the LCA is such a bunch of enduring, resilient believers. I pray God we never lose that spiritual gift!
In a world that values glamour and glitz more than honesty and integrity, we need to remember where our strengths lie. Like St Peter’s Pittsworth, the people of the LCA are here to stay, while God lovingly, but when necessary painfully, shapes us as living stones, built into a spiritual house that will stand forever.