Melbourne’s city skyline was a stark contrast to the vast verdant landscape of Central Australia for four Aboriginal delegates attending the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand’s 20th Convention of General Synod from 9 to 12 February 2023.
It was the first time in the history of the General Synod that representatives of the four language areas from the Finke River Mission in Central Australia joined as voting delegates at the church’s highest decision-making meeting.
The four delegates, Specific Ministry Pastors (SMP) Rodney Malbunka and Stanley Roberts, with Richard Morton and Seraphina Presley-Haines, were among 341 delegates from across Australia and New Zealand to gather for the in-person sessions.
The group, who were supported by Finke River Mission fieldworkers Pastor Paul Traeger and Pastor Neville Doecke, thought that one of the most memorable parts of Synod was the community worship.
For retired teacher Seraphina Presley-Haines, celebrating in a community of more than 500 worshippers at the opening service of the Convention gave her goosebumps.
Seraphina, from Ti Tree, north of Alice Springs, represented the Anmatyerr language area, north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. As a first-time delegate, Seraphina said it was very important for the group to come to Synod, hear God’s word, and ‘go back to their communities and tell them that God loves us no matter who we are and where we live’.
Worshipping in community at Synod was also very special for Pastor Stanley Roberts from the Pintupi-Luritja language area, west of Alice Springs. ‘It spoke in my heart’, he said. ‘It’s really good to meet with others and get to know each other as Christians, being one in Christ’.
‘We miss our families back home but appreciate being able to worship together.’
Pastor Stanley was ordained as an SMP at Papunya, 240 kilometres west of Alice Springs, in November 2020. His father, the late Pastor Murphy Roberts, was one of the first Pintupi-Luritja pastors ordained almost 40 years ago.
And for Anmatyerre language area representative Richard Morton, the fellowship was inspiring, humbling and even overwhelming, after reuniting with his primary school principal at Synod.
He said Synod reminded him of a parliament, ‘but it is good to see different views of certain things, if we base our thoughts on Scripture and dwell on Scripture’.
‘What is happening here affects everyone back at home, especially those people who rely on the faith and need spiritual guidance.’
It was the first time most of the Indigenous delegates had visited Melbourne, with fellow delegate Pastor Rodney Malbunka astounded at the size of the city compared with his home at Ntaria, named Hermannsburg, 125 kilometres west of Alice Springs.
Son of Pastor Colin Malbunka, Rodney was born in Neutral Junction near Barrel Creek on the Stuart Highway and moved to Hermannsburg in 1975 and was ordained in 2015, serving the Arrarnta language area. He said he enjoyed the experience of Synod and meeting people from all over Australia. He was also struck by the size and green turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, after the baked red earth football oval of his hometown. He’s even got a photo of it to show his local Bulldogs AFL team back home.
Pastor Neville Doecke gave praise and thanks to God that these delegates could come down and meet with so many fellow Lutherans from across the LCANZ. ‘Many thanks to the delegates who spoke to them and made them feel very welcome’, he said.