The scene of the invisible church is the since-disappeared suburb of Kirkcaldy in Adelaide. The year is 1959. The leading figure is Rev Alfred Zinnbauer. Other participants include the Metropolitan Mission and Migrant Committee (MMMC), which had called Pastor Zinnbauer to be the Adelaide city missioner.
Despite repeated attempts … to get Pastor Zinnbauer to cooperate and work together … he has indulged in unilateral action: starting preaching places in various centres, establishing Sunday Schools, acquiring blocks of land and erecting buildings thereon
At the time, Pastor Zinnbauer was ministering to congregations in Osborne, Kirkcaldy, Woodside, College Park and Croydon Park. Three years earlier, in 1956, MMMC had granted Pastor Zinnbauer permission to hold worship services in the Kirkcaldy area, in a private home in Marlborough Street, Henley. Zinnbauer began ministry there, knowing that the ‘committee cannot afford a block or a church building for some time to come’. A Sunday school was also established through the work of Mr Luestner; 36 children were attending.
Enter another player into our detective story: Carl Schulz, treasurer for UELCA South Australia district and for the MMMC. Mr Schulz was an accountant, so I imagine him as a man of order and precision, a man of records and details—characteristics in contrast to our friend Zinnbauer, who acted from the heart and generally without obtaining permission from the committee. To Schulz, Zinnbauer may have appeared impulsive, reckless even. Often at loggerheads with the MMMC, Zinnbauer was frustrated by the financial constraints of the committee which hampered his ministries and slowed his relentless pace.
A man of action, Zinnbauer recognised the need to establish preaching places in areas of post-war migrant settlement. He encouraged the MMMC to purchase blocks of land in these suburbs and to erect transportable halls. Migrants were transitory, following any opportunities for work; therefore worship buildings needed to be transportable. He made numerous suggestions of suitable locations and properties. Sadly, however, the committee was frustratingly slow to take up Zinnbauer’s proposals. As a result, Zinnbauer purchased many properties with his own finance (or rather, from his wife Helga’s income) and then offered to sell these properties on to the committee. Treasurer Schulz was aghast! ‘Brother Zinnbauer, why do you do these things?’ In one such instance, in September 1957, Zinnbauer bought Lot 310 Belfast Street, Kirkcaldy (now Henley Beach), and erected a steel-framed garage as a worship centre.
On 1 March 1959, under the convening of Mr Luestner, Pastor Zinnbauer established the Kirkcaldy congregation. It was named ‘Mercy’ and the church elders were Mr Giebel, Mr Kuhlack and Mr Michaelis. The constitution for the Albert Park congregation was used, with the long-term view of incorporation into that parish, for ‘no spectacular growth but stability’, according to a letter Pastor Zinnbauer wrote to President Carl Pfitzner the following day.
Perhaps this led to Dr Max Lohe coining the phrase ‘Pastor Zinnbauer and his invisible church’: Zinnbauer acting without committee authorisation; the transitory and fluid nature of migrant congregations; or even, as we shall see, Zinnbauer’s lack of prowess in record-keeping and administration!
The MMMC met eleven days later and minuted ‘that whereas Kirkcaldy and Osborne and Croydon Park have been established without the knowledge and consent of the Committee, therefore the Committee cannot directly be held responsible for the spiritual care of these centres’. But this didn’t appear to worry the people of Pastor Zinnbauer’s congregations and in his care.
The MMMC continued in confidence: ‘Despite repeated attempts by the Committee to get Pastor Zinnbauer to cooperate and work together with the Committee, he has indulged in unilateral action: starting preaching places in various centres, establishing Sunday Schools, acquiring blocks of land and erecting buildings thereon—mostly garages, without the knowledge and advice of the Committee, let alone its sanction’. Sunday school, religious instruction in nearby schools, confirmation classes and fortnightly services were all being held at Kirkcaldy.
For six months the committee and Zinnbauer argued over the Kirkcaldy and Osborne congregations. On
14 August 1959, the committee at last decided that Zinnbauer’s ministry should continue at Kirkcaldy and they agreed to consult the finance committee to purchase the site from Zinnbauer—who was on strict instructions not to purchase any more blocks of land without prior approval.
Now we come to another mystery: that of the dedication of the Kirkcaldy church. We can find no record or report in the Lutheran Herald that it was dedicated, but here we hope that our Treasurer Schulz can help us. Schulz enjoyed making films, many of which have found their way to the Archives. One film in our collection contains footage of UELCA church dedications in the 1950s—including Holy Cross Mansfield Park, St Paul’s Salisbury, Immanuel North Adelaide and Pilgrim Magill. These congregations were established as Home Mission Committee and MMMC church-planting projects, funded through the UELCA Church Revolving Fund. On this film—according to the label—is footage of the Kirkcaldy dedication. We believe this is the only visual record in our collection of this church and this congregation; certainly we have no photographs and only scant written records.
To confound our detective skills, the film is so fragile it cannot be projected. To solve this mystery we need to digitise the film. This film and the 139 others in our collection are at a critical point in their lives; we urgently need to digitise all 140 films before they deteriorate further and are lost for eternity.
Will you help us raise the $60,000 needed to digitise our film collection? Please go to https://donation.lca.org.au/ and follow the links to Departments –Lutheran Archives–Film Digitisation Appeal. Help us to make our invisible church visible!
Rachel Kuchel is LCA Archivist.