Dr George Rosendale, the third Aboriginal person ordained in the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA), died on 11 September, three weeks after the 50th anniversary of his ordination. He was 89.
As a pastor he served the communities of Coen, Cooktown, Cairns and Hope Vale, before retiring in 1992. He will be remembered for his contribution to the wider Lutheran Church, in particular his work in exploring the Scriptures from an Aboriginal perspective and integrating Indigenous Lutherans into the wider church. This work was symbolised in his participation with then LCA President Dr Lance Steicke in the Rite of Reconciliation at the General Convention of Synod in 2000. Their historic embrace after the rite of confession and forgiveness was recorded on the cover of The Lutheran.
‘Now, I can go home and die in peace’, Pastor Rosendale said after the rite.
‘Sometimes it seems God reaches down and places his hand on someone’s head in a very special way. Such a head belonged to George Rosendale’, Dr Steicke said. ‘George’s history is remarkable, his survival is remarkable, his life is remarkable and his contribution to the life and ministry of the LCA has been remarkable.’
For many years Pastor Rosendale struggled with teaching the gospel from a ‘white point of view’. He saw it as his mission to change that viewpoint by exploring Aboriginal stories and beliefs from a gospel perspective, and vice versa. With the goal in mind, he and fellow ‘Rainbow Spirit’ elders, assisted by Dr Norm Habel as scribe, wrote Rainbow Spirit Theology.
Pastor Rosendale said at the time, ‘I wondered how we knew the Creator, how we see Christ. I tried my best to bring Christ through our own culture, through our own stories.’
Dr Habel wrote in a story for The Lutheran in 2010, titled ‘Rainbow Warrior’: ‘We in the Lutheran Church owe a great debt to George. Perhaps as much as any missionary, he has helped to express the gospel in ways that Indigenous people understand, because of how he links it to their culture’.
‘George has lived the LCA logo’, his pastor, David Spanagel, said. ‘Just as there is no boundary line around the logo, he has reached out to people from all denominations and no denomination, to people of his own Indigenous culture and to non-Indigenous people.
‘He has been a “giant for Jesus” in his lifetime – a truly great teacher with the ability to simplify the Christian faith and yet retain its richness and authenticity.’
In 1992 Pastor Rosendale received an OAM for his services to the Lutheran Church and Aboriginal communities. In 2009 he became the first Indigenous Lutheran to be awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by Australian Lutheran College.
Pastor Rosendale and his wife Maud had three children: John, Wayne (who died in 1999), and Carol (who died in 1994). Maud died in 2012.
In the May edition of The Lutheran this year, he said, ‘I think about going home. Recently I was thinking that [God] has had a place prepared for me since my baptism.
‘I often think of my wife and wonder what she is doing. I think she will have joined the choir and I’ll be able to join her. I will just sing, sing and sing, and what we will sing is, “Hallelujah”!
‘Yesterday I pictured in my imagination standing before God in the garment of Christ that covers me … The most important gospel message is “we are saved by grace”. Nothing but the grace of God will save us.’
Dr Steicke honours his friend George as ‘a gentleman, a pastor, an ambassador for his people, a theologian and a child of God, whose hand touched his head in a special way and used him for his special purposes’.
‘All Australian Lutherans should thank God for the life, ministry and witness of one of God’s special people in the person of George Rosendale.’