Hermannsburg: passing on the baton

A little more than 50 years ago, when Pastor Conrad Raberaba set in place the foundation stone of the new church at Hermannsburg, 125 kilometres west of Alice Springs, a time capsule prepared by congregation members Olga Radke and Karl Benz was placed behind it.

On 25 September 2016, on the occasion of Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s 50th anniversary, Olga and Karl were there to watch the stone being carefully removed and the capsule being held aloft by 26-year-old Nicholas Williams. The son of church council member Marion Swift, Nicholas was born 25 years after that foundation stone was laid, and 94 years after the second church was built at Hermannsburg in 1896. His holding of the time capsule, together with Olga and Karl, represented the passing of the baton of faith from one generation to the next.

‘It was good to come together as a community to celebrate the anniversary’, Marion said, ‘and for all the people, especially younger ones, to see how people worked together in the past to build the church.’

In his sermon LCA Assistant Bishop Dr Andrew Pfeiffer explored the theme of passing on the baton. Preaching on 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 to a congregation of more than 500 people, he said, ‘We are one generation. We receive the baton of faith from the last generation and we ask for God’s help to pass it on to the next generation. If the baton gets dropped we pick it up again and start running again … Passing on the Christian faith is a bit like a relay.’

Finke River Mission was established in 1877 by German missionaries who dedicated their lives to introducing the people of Central Australia to Jesus Christ. Today there are around 7000 Aboriginal Lutherans in the heart of Australia. Finke River Mission’s ministry among and with the Aboriginal people covers the Arrarnta, Pitjantjatjara, Luritja, Alyawarr and Anmatyerr language areas. More than 20 Aboriginal Lutheran pastors, all of them multi-lingual, proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in more than 40 remote communities in Central Australia.

In his role as a lecturer at Australian Lutheran College, Dr Pfeiffer has for several years been leading ‘bush courses’ for the Aboriginal pastors and evangelists in Central Australia, where theology is taught under brilliant blue skies in classrooms of burning red sand, spinifex and bushy mulgas. In his sermon Dr Pfeiffer reflected on the long line of faithful people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who had endured immense hardship in order to bring the gospel and nurture it in a harsh land.

‘People in the past had great vision and courage from God to plan and build these church buildings and to train and support Aboriginal pastors and evangelists to teach and preach and bring the gospel to you’, he said. ‘And now you look ahead. Today is not the end. It is a landmark along the journey. It is a day to look at the baton, the baton of faith, and ask God to give you help and strength and courage to pass it on to a new generation.’

‘You see, you play your part too now in the relay of faith.’

Read Dr Pfeiffer’s sermon on the occasion of Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s 50th anniversary.