In former LCA Vice-President, the late Dr John ‘Joe’ Strelan, ‘God gave the church a special gift’, says Dr Vic Pfitzner. Dr Strelan, who served in the role now known as assistant bishop from 1987 to 1998, died on Saturday, aged 83.
Dr Pfitzner, who was principal of the then Luther Seminary from 1989 to 1997 while Dr Strelan was a lecturer there, describes his former colleague as ‘a special gift, a pastor, missionary, theologian, teacher, and writer who could communicate the gospel with rare clarity and teach the profound truths of the faith with rare simplicity’.
‘He had no time for theological pretension, for flashy words with little substance’, Dr Pfitzner says of Dr Strelan in a tribute on the LCA website. ‘His sharp, incisive mind gave him the ability to articulate complex theological matters in clear, accessible language.
‘Dr Joe had a pastoral heart but at the same time was not afraid to speak the truth, even when that meant going against popular opinion. Indeed, he had an acute sense of justice and fairness.’
Dr Pfitzner says Dr Strelan was a ‘most valued support’ during his years as principal and that his leadership qualities came to the fore in his years as vice-president under LCA President Dr Lance Steicke, who served in that role from 1987 to 2000.
‘In the final analysis, the greatest thing that can be said of any pastor, and the only thing that counts before God and the world, is that he was truly a servant of the gospel’, Dr Pfitzner says.
Dr ‘Joe’ Strelan was the third child of 10 in the Strelan clan, born in Ungarie, New South Wales, in 1936 to Peter and Erica Strelan, nee Appelt. His father and maternal grandfather were pastors.
He studied at Concordia College and Seminary in South Australia, graduating in 1959. He was ordained on 17 January 1960.
His first parish was at Wangaratta in Victoria, from 1960 to 1962. He then went to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and was a missionary and seminary lecturer, librarian, vice-principal and dean of studies across the years 1962 to 1984.
He married primary school teacher Bronwyn Burgess in 1965 and they had four children.
Dr Strelan spent 1973 in the USA, studying for a Doctorate in Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary at St Louis, Missouri. After his time in PNG, he spent a year from 1984 to 1985 as a guest lecturer at the Missions College and Augustana Hochschule in Neuendettelsau in Germany. He also lectured at the University of Erlangen.
In 1985, he was called to the faculty of Luther Seminary (now Australian Lutheran College) in Adelaide and remained there until the end of 1997. He taught in the areas of New Testament and Systematic Theology. He also served as First Vice-President of the LCA from 1987 to 1998.
He accepted a call to Port Macquarie, New South Wales, in 1998 and retired from full-time ministry in 2001. He was the author of the books Search for salvation: Studies in the History and Theology of Cargo Cults (1977) and Where earth meets heaven: A commentary on Revelation (1994).
Dr Dean Zweck who, like Dr Strelan, served as a missionary and seminary lecturer in PNG and also as a lecturer at Luther Seminary, says Dr Strelan was ‘a respected colleague and leader’ among Australians serving in PNG.
‘Joe had a big heart for the gospel. The gospel shone through in all his preaching and teaching, and in his life’, Dr Zweck says.
Dr Strelan died on Saturday 25 April 2020 at Tweed Heads, New South Wales. His funeral will be held on Friday 1 May 2020, at Tweed Heads Memorial Gardens and Crematorium. He is survived by his wife Bronwyn and their children Peter, John, Kylie and Luana and families.
Read condolence letter from Rt Rev Dr Jack Urame, Head Bishop, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea.