Pastor Paul Smith has been installed as the sixth churchwide leader for Lutherans in Australia and New Zealand since church union in 1966, in a service of celebration at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Adelaide.
Pastor John Henderson, who served as LCANZ bishop from 2013 until his retirement in December 2021, installed Pastor Paul to the role of bishop on 20 February at the same church where the new churchwide leader was ordained in 1988.
At Bishop Paul’s request, South Australia-Northern Territory District Bishop David Altus focused his sermon on the first words of St Paul in Galatians 5:1 – ‘For freedom Christ has set us free’.
While Bishop David said in a light-hearted opening that there were ‘many reasons why we wouldn’t want to stand in Paul’s shoes today’, he encouraged the new church leader with a reminder that God’s saving work through Christ Jesus sets us free to live and work for him, unafraid of making mistakes in our quest to share the gospel.
‘Paul, you don’t need me to remind you it’s a daunting task that you have accepted at the call of the church’, Bishop David said. ‘The other heads of churches and bishops here well know that with church leadership comes expectation, judgement, and sometimes condemnation.
‘And God says we are accountable to him, the Chief Shepherd, and the bar goes up a few notches for those of us who would be overseers of his church.’
However, Bishop David said the freedom won in Christ ‘is not an escape’. ‘It’s a gift and a life we can all enjoy together in God’s church and share with the world’, he said.
‘Our faith is in a God who sees behind all our masks, into our very hearts, and yes, he reads all our text messages! He knows what we really think and say about each other, and what we think about ourselves, and yes, when we have twisted the truth to suit our story.
‘But our God is not one who cancels, unfriends, blocks or distances himself from us when we don’t meet his expectation about the life of love that both he, and we know we should live. The Christian faith says that in his love, God stepped into our shoes, lived a life of perfect love and then willingly took our place, dying for our imperfect lives.
‘God has already stepped forward and taken your place Paul, and you have stepped into a life of freedom with him.’
In his remarks at the end of the service, Bishop Paul asked for the prayers of the church and highlighted a commitment to servant-leadership in relating his response to a gathering of Lutheran school students who had asked him what a bishop does. ‘I explained that a bishop moves diagonally – and all the chess players chuckled’, began Bishop Paul, who has spent many years in Lutheran education as a school pastor as well as being the immediate past district bishop of Queensland. ‘I went on to explain that the word bishop was a technical church word for “foot washer”.
‘In John’s Gospel, having just washed his disciples’ feet, our Lord Jesus says, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you”.
‘I ask you to pray for me and for all the people of our evangelical Lutheran Church in New Zealand and Australia and for the people of all Christian churches of the world, that we would gladly serve in the Lord’s name.
‘As we all travel purposefully together in this mission life as the church of the Lutheran witness to Jesus Christ, let us hold fast with joyful hope to our Lord’s sure promise – that he will always continue to build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail, for the sake of him who died and rose again, Jesus Christ.’
Guests at the service included the Governor of South Australia, the Honourable Frances Adamson AC; LCANZ Bishop Emeritus Rev Dr Michael Semmler; the President of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, Rev Antonio del Rio Reyes; Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide, the Most Reverend Geoffrey Smith; the President of the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Rev Sharon Hollis; the Very Reverend Father Georges el Tahan of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, representing His Eminence Metropolitan Basilios Kodseie; the President of the National Council of Churches in Australia, Rev John Gilmore; and LCANZ Pastors Simon Dixon and Roderick Kantamara, from Central Australia’s First Nations Aboriginal Lutheran communities. Rosalind Coleman, representing the Kaurna First Nations peoples, conducted the Welcome to Country, while the service included recorded songs from the Ntaria Choir of Hermannsburg Northern Territory and the St Peters Lutheran College Chorale from Indooroopilly Queensland and a setting of Psalm 37 written for the occasion by Lutheran Church of New Zealand Bishop Mark Whitfield.
To watch a recording of the service, go to www.lca.org.au/livestreams/