Fifty years ago, Natimuk in western Victoria was one of the leaders in bringing together the two Lutheran churches in Australia – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA) and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia (UELCA).
The two Natimuk congregations began worshipping together on 24 April 1966, eight months before the Lutheran Church of Australia officially came into being.
Natimuk’s early amalgamation – perhaps preceded only by Whyalla in 1963 – was a happy chance. There were two St Paul’s Lutheran churches in Natimuk – St Paul’s ELCA church (later to become St James) on the hill at the eastern end of town, and St Paul’s UELCA church on the hill at the western end of town.
UELCA Pastor Lloyd John preached his valedictory sermon in Natimuk on 17 April 1966, before going to America for post-graduate studies, leaving a vacancy at Natimuk. However, from the very next Sunday, 24 April 1966, Natimuk’s ELCA Pastor Harold Mattiske began serving the UELCA congregation as well. With Pastor Mattiske as shepherd of both congregations, all auxiliaries began to work together, and the proper disposal of surplus church furnishings and property was arranged.
St Paul’s had a new church building (pictured) and St James had an old one but a new hall, so the hall was shifted up the main street to St Paul’s at the western end of town. The old St James church became Natimuk’s first pre-school centre, and the new St Paul’s church continued as the worship centre, as it is today.
Formal amalgamation occurred on 18 December and, at midnight on New Year’s Eve 1966, the former St James and the former St Paul’s congregations ceased to function as individual congregations. At 12.01 am on 1 January 1967, the new St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Natimuk came into being with a divine service and holy communion. Senior members of the church say it was a very happy and smooth union.
Natimuk is planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of unity at a service on 24 April – 50 years to the day since they first worshipped together. To God be all the glory!
Keith Lockwood is a member of St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Natimuk. His great-great-grandfather, Pastor Clamor Schürmann, was the first pastor to visit Natimuk, Wonwondah and surrounding districts in the early 1870s.
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