When Matt Schubert became mission facilitator/church planter at Rockingham Mandurah Lutheran Church (RMLC) in Western Australia earlier this year, he didn’t know what God had in store for him and the congregation’s outreach ministries beyond 2020.

RMLC, which worships across two sites south of Perth, began a church-planting journey more than four years ago, praying for guidance. In following God’s lead, they committed to support a mission facilitator position for three years and to plant a new church. But, as a relatively small congregation, they knew they wouldn’t be able to source all the necessary money from within their immediate community.

Chairperson Monika Tropiano admits to ‘some anxiety’ – in addition to quiet prayer and contemplation – over how RMLC would raise the $250,000 they needed to make the outreach ministry sustainable.

Meanwhile, the 16-member Redeemer congregation at Nairne in the Adelaide Hills – more than 2700 kilometres from RMLC – had been planning to support a church plant in northern Adelaide with some of the proceeds of a 2006 land sale. But that South Australian church plant didn’t materialise and so, when the Redeemer members learnt of the need at RMLC, they donated $50,000 to the Western Australian church. Matt and the leaders of RMLC were thrilled by God’s goodness. ‘This gift towards our church-planting endeavour in WA is an incredible example of Christian maturity’, Matt says. ‘The question that these people asked was not “What’s best for us?”. They instead asked, “What’s best for God’s mission?”.

‘The nature of any missionary work – church planting included – is that I spend a lot of my time with people who don’t initially value gospel ministry. In a very real sense, the Nairne congregation are standing in the gap for not-yet-Christians, placing value on a ministry the unconverted don’t yet value, supporting a church which is yet to exist.’

In response to the gift, RMLC Pastor Steve Liersch says, ’If it were not COVID times, I would have hugged anyone I saw. Praise God! Prayers have truly been answered. This reflects that God is up to something within our church and the wider LCA. Only he could have orchestrated such an amazing and inspiring gift.

‘I hope that Matt’s next few years here will not only bear fruit with people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, but also in that process the Holy Spirit will use him to inspire others to be involved. We have already had adult baptisms as a result of Matt’s ministry and this will hopefully show even more how everyday people, conversations and opportunities can be used by God for eternal blessings and current inspiration for his church.’

Western Australia District Bishop Mike Fulwood says he is ‘so thankful’ for the way God’s Spirit works to inspire people. ‘Wow – God is good’, Bishop Mike says. ‘That people we have never met are supporting mission to people they have never met, is something straight from the heart of God.’

Monika is hopeful that the donation will allow RMLC to move from being focused on its own needs ‘to being a part of the mission of God and sharing our faith so that others will come to know the transformation that following Jesus can bring’.

This is the latest chapter in another story of God’s faithfulness in bringing good out of disappointments or hard times. When the Redeemer congregation was given a parcel of land by John and Maureen Nitschke in the late 1980s, they intended to build a church. Established 33 years ago, the congregation has never had its own worship centre, instead holding services in the local Uniting Church building.

But when the land was deemed unsuitable by the local council due to parking requirements, Redeemer members were led by the Holy Spirit to turn their disappointment into blessings for others. They aimed to support a church plant in the Adelaide Hills, but plans for possible developments in their local area stalled, according to Nairne chairperson Michael Gladigau and other members.

‘We wanted to be good stewards of the gifts we were custodians to’, they say. ‘The Holy Spirit moved us to investigate looking into giving some of this money to (the LCA’s) New and Renewing Churches. God is always leading us and answering prayers, as he knows best. We need to trust him. Our vision is limited. God is omniscient.’

What they learnt regarding church planting, together with prayerful consideration on how the funds would be used for furthering the planting of God’s word, led them to first make a gift of $50,000 to a church plant in south-east Queensland in 2018. At that time the recipients – LCA/NZ church planter Chris Podlich and the young leaders of Beyond Church in northern Brisbane – believed God was calling them to move.

Approximately 2000 kilometres from Nairne, Beyond had been planted out of Living Faith Lutheran Church at Murrumba Downs in 2015. Now it was time to step out in faith into the heart of the unchurched community they had been preparing to serve. But, Chris says, they didn’t know where they would establish a new base or how they would fund setting up their own church facilities. Within a 48-hour period, God had shown them the ‘how’ and the ‘where’, with Nairne committing its financial gift and a local state school agreeing to welcome them into their campus at Griffin.

The move has enabled Beyond to establish its distinct presence as ‘a church that unchurched people love to attend’. It has grown from one service to two; one small group to nine; one youth environment to three; one team of eight leaders to multiple teams that have more than 50 leaders in them; and service projects that began with 10 people serving having grown to involve more than 30 people in them.

As with Rockingham-Mandurah, before COVID-19 adult baptisms had become a regular feature of life and ministry at Beyond.

Chris has met with members of the Nairne congregation when he’s had the chance and says the two donations they have made to Beyond have brought much more than financial benefit.

‘It’s something that I’ve personally drawn on and I know our leadership team has drawn on as an encouragement when things get hard,’ he says. ‘When you ask, “Is this worth it?” and you look back on those times, you think, “Well, God clearly thinks it’s worth it”. God’s been moving in people’s hearts. Clearly God’s behind this. These gifts change lives.’

Another example of the life-changing power of local mission through church planting is occurring in Epping, a north-western suburb of Sydney, around 1300 kilometres from Nairne. In 2019, Redeemer provided seed money towards staff for a multi-ethnic church plant out of LifeWay Lutheran Church. Lead Pastor Mark Schultz says the gift was an ‘incredible encouragement’ and an answer to prayer as LifeWay wrestled with how to do mission and ministry in a changing community, with 59 per cent of people speaking a language other than English at home and a third of the suburb being recent arrivals.

‘It enabled us to get into the local schools and work with young people as they straddle multiple cultures, and employ Mandarin and Cantonese speakers to be bridge-builders between cultures’, Pastor Mark says. ‘Walking in mission is a constant journey of trust; it’s easy to hold back because we fear a lack of resources, but reminders like this draw us back to a faithful God, in whom we lack no good thing. God is a God of abundance and provides for his church in surprising ways.’

LifeWay has now embarked on another step of faith. In conjunction with the NSW District, it has just employed a church planter, Danny Brock, to plant LifeWay Westside, a greenfields multi-ethnic church near the new International airport in Western Sydney.

Michael and the Redeemer folk say hearing the grateful responses from people who have received the gifts gives them ‘a feeling of joy and thankfulness that we are able to help others through the blessings we have received’.

‘We are reminded of the wonderful miracle that Jesus performed when feeding the multitudes with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread’, they say. ‘This one block of land is enabling multitudes to know of God’s love for them. We hope that God’s word will be proclaimed to as many people as possible and people will be led to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

‘What is the point of having money in the bank, when there is a need to support those led to spread the gospel, people with gifts of listening, praying and leading people to Jesus? This became our ministry, part of God’s plan to spread the gospel, as he wants all to be saved.’

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The General Church Board (GCB) has approved moves to improve the ‘efficiency and transparency’ of the LCA/NZ’s call process.

Following a decision by the 2015 General Convention of Synod, the then General Church Council (now GCB) commissioned an investigation into the LCA call process in order to hear from congregations about their views and expectations of the process and to identify ways the system could be improved.

The report ‘A Review of the Call Process of the Lutheran Church of Australia’ was completed in July 2018. GCB now has responded to the report, including approving actions designed in collaboration with the College of Bishops (CoB) to improve the process.

The general conclusions of the report were that:

  • The call process was under stress
  • Parishes believed the process was inadequate, but could be improved, rather than replaced
  • Bishops and directors of mission generally reported satisfaction with the current call process, but indicated that it could be improved
  • The call process of the LCA already allows for a variety of practices, but that neither parishes nor bishops and directors of mission are aware of the full range of variants available, and
  • Expectation management is important for the call process to function well and for the reduction of levels of mistrust and frustration.

The LCA/NZ’s Secretary of the Church, Dr Nigel Long, said the review made a number of recommendations, though overall it found that the system did ‘not require significant structural change’.

‘However, it did identify that there is frustration about the system and a process that can be disheartening for some calling bodies’, he said. ‘As a result, the review also identified scope for improvement in the efficiency and transparency of the process.

‘GCB has received the report, considered its recommendations and approved a series of actions to implement them. These actions were developed in consultation with the College of Bishops. Some of them are already under development; for example, Church Worker Support is working on a framework for annual vocational reviews of pastors. Others will be developed and rolled out through this synodical period and beyond.’

Dr Long said the actions were focused on supporting both calling bodies and pastors to:

  • improve trust in the call process
  • increase the chances of a good calling body/pastor fit
  • improve the understanding of how the call process works, and
  • ensure greater professionalism, and overall efficiency and transparency in the system.

He said the approved actions could be ‘implemented through policy, operational processes and provision of resources to support all participants in the call system’. They would not require a synodical decision.

GCB’s response to the recommendations of the review report is available online through the LCA website at www.lca.org.au/call-review-process

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As Christians, we know – and Scripture reminds us – that God can bring blessings out of bad situations, even if we don’t always recognise them right away.

Sometimes these blessings follow quickly after a tragedy or heartbreaking event, as God moves people to bring love to life for those who are hurting. What results can leave us in awe of his wisdom, power and heart for his people.

There have been many examples of God’s grace and mercy in this difficult past 12 months.

In the generosity and compassion shown to shattered people by their neighbours, churches and the wider public, after lives, homes and livelihoods were razed by bushfires, we have seen the very nature of God. In the connections made with and care provided for those suffering and isolated by the global devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, we experience the very touch of God – even as we keep physical distance from each other.

He suffers with us and knows our greatest fears. This intimate relationship between Father and children is, as the beloved hymn calls it ‘blessed assurance’, even when our pain is beyond what we think we can bear.

Sometimes the good emanating from something terrible may take years – and many seemingly unanswered prayers – to materialise, as God’s will unfolds, in his time. In Genesis we read of the blessings he brought out of Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers – and you can delve more into that in this month’s Bible study.

I’ve experienced this goodness after tragedy or hardship personally. Having lost my dad as a child, I gained a wonderful step-father and siblings after my mum remarried. And, through times of job insecurity, God opened my eyes to his path for me.

In this edition we are privileged to share stories from around our church about God’s remarkable goodness and faithfulness. These offer a small insight into how he can use us to further his kingdom, bringing blessings from even the most trying times, or in the face of the biggest disappointments.

We also bring back some popular sections, including Go and Grow, which this month features wonderful resources for Advent and Christmas. And, mindful of your responses to our subscriber survey, we are retaining Church@Home devotional materials, as you’ve told us they are a treasured inclusion, even for those who’ve been able to return to face-to-face worship.

I pray that in these pages we all see evidence of the hope that only Jesus offers to replenish our souls when hardship leaves us ‘running on empty’ – and the blessings he showers on us and through us, even in the darkest days.

– Lisa

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Rev John Henderson

Bishop Lutheran Church of Australia

‘This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’ (Romans 3:22 NIV).

During my school years in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, people would sometimes ask me about my ‘religion’. Their frequent response to hearing ‘Lutheran’ was, ‘Is that a sect?’ Admitting to being Lutheran was a quick way to lose friends. For compulsory Religious Education, the list of denominations would be exhausted by the time I got to put my hand up.

What, indeed, is ‘Lutheran’? Why use the name of a 16th-century Saxon monk of whom most Aussies and Kiwis have never heard? And even if they’ve heard, they hardly care – unless, that is, they are already inside the smallish Lutheran bubble.

The names of many churches are pretty obvious. Roman Catholic is the Roman branch of the catholic (universal) church. Orthodox is Trinitarian Christian. Anglicanism originated in the British Isles. Uniting Church and Churches of Christ are straightforward, as is Salvation Army. Baptist is a reference to believer-baptism, Presbyterian to church governance by presbyters (elders). Methodism began with a practical ‘method’ of evangelism.

‘Lutheran’, however, was first used as an insult during a religious debate in 1519. Luther didn’t like the name, but it stuck. He wrote in 1522, ‘I ask that my name be left silent and people not call themselves Lutheran, but rather Christians’.

So that was one down for Luther and one up for popular opinion! It goes to show that Lutherans do not accept something as true just because Luther said it. For truth, we turn to Scripture. In 1528, seemingly having given up on the name issue, the reformer wrote, ‘Luther himself will not be Lutheran if he does not purely teach the holy Scripture’.

We Lutherans do have a bias about holy Scripture: we read it through a Christ-centred lens. We believe that we are saved only by God’s grace and only through faith in Jesus Christ. A famous Reformation painting shows Luther preaching to the congregation: his left hand on the Bible and his right hand pointing to the crucified Christ, whose cross stands front and centre.

The early Lutherans were reformers, not separatists. They retained baptism, holy communion, the ecumenical creeds, the liturgy and the seasons. They didn’t smash statues or whitewash walls. They kept the crucifix as a symbol of the crucified Christ.

Their protest was against spiritual abuse. Other things they left alone, unless they obscured the gospel.

Today we are still passionate about faith, anchored in the truth of Scripture and the centrality of Jesus. In that sense we are evangelical, a name we used for ourselves until recently. It comes from ‘evangel’, meaning ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’. The good news of God’s love for us in his Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour, is at the centre of everything we believe and teach as Lutherans.

Lutherans are at their very best when they respond to God’s call to go into the world to share the good news of the kingdom. We have all we need – God’s word, baptism, and holy communion.

Just as sauce does not stay in the bottle but must be poured out to add its special flavour, so God has placed us in the world to be poured out in his service, pointing people to Christ as the Saviour of the world. That, in the end, is what it is to be truly Lutheran.

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Christians from more than 90 churches from around New Zealand – including members of St Paul’s Lutheran Community Church at Upper Moutere in the north of the South Island – have come together online to sing a blessing over their nation.

Inspired by many other mass video choirs from around the world who have teamed up virtually during a season of isolation, the New Zealand video of ‘The Blessing’ was produced by St Paul’s member and professional musician Grant Norsworthy.

‘The Blessing’ song by Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes and Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in the United States is based on the Aaronic Blessing from Numbers 6:22–26. It was first transformed into a show of interdenominational unity in the United Kingdom in May.

You can watch The Blessing Aotearoa New Zealand at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZQPifs2kjo

See Grant and other St Paul’s members from 4 mins 37 secs into the video.

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by Lisa McIntosh

While the tragedies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have upended many lives, ‘getting back to normal’ is not something the people of Mawson Lakes Community Church (MLCC) are hoping for.

Like many other church communities, the people of this LCA/NZ congregation in Adelaide’s north have undergone some dramatic shifts in their ministries since March this year. But for MLCC it wasn’t just a case of temporarily ‘pivoting and innovating’ while churches were closed – instead it’s been a matter of ushering in sustainable change.

For Pastor Chris Mann that attitude is biblically based.

‘Every time there’s a crisis, what God wants people to do is to embrace something new – you find that all through the Bible’, he says. ‘And so when people say they want to go back to the way things were, I find that sad and disheartening. They’re missing what God has for them.

‘We’re wired by God for new things, especially in hard times. So the question really is, “What is the ‘new’ that God would have us do during this time?” Newness gives the direction, hope and structure to people that they desperately need in hard times. So we want to keep on going and see where God would take this.’

Before COVID-19, MLCC had an out-of-date website and little social media presence. When shutdown occurred, decisions were made to employ staff to improve and increase the church’s online presence, including through its website at www.mlcc.org.au

Creating an online community using live-streaming – a focus even after face-to-face worship returned in South Australia – has enabled the congregation to support those unable to meet in person, says Amy Dahlenburg, who oversees the communication of church culture through branding, online presence and community connection. She says the congregation has utilised online social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, as well as making weekly community calls through internet conferencing system Zoom and sending out newsletters.

Today MLCC describes itself as ‘one church, two rooms’ – one virtual, online room and one face-to-face room on Sundays.

Pastor Chris says the most important thing MLCC has learnt as a community through the pandemic is to be as inclusive as possible. ‘We’re serving people with online church who always needed to be served, but would only be included through people visiting them in their homes when they were able to’, he says. ‘Now they’re part of the worship service and they feel included. They were always important, but now they feel that they are.’

Having connected with people interstate and overseas through online worship, MLCC is working on improving its ability to follow up those connections. And Pastor Chris says some people who first connected through online worship have started coming to in-person worship once that was available. ‘We’re probably at around about half-a-dozen people who have started coming face-to-face, who we didn’t have contact with before COVID.’

Those without internet access haven’t been forgotten. Amy says MLCC has had church members on a phone cycle to make regular calls to anyone who wasn’t online. Most of these connections were through the church’s small groups.

‘We also encouraged members, when it was safe to do so, to invite people to their houses to watch the live-stream’, Amy says. ‘We still encourage this to help people who are still unable to come to face-to-face church and don’t have internet access, but who may be able to get to a friend’s house or have someone bring a device and sit with them.’

As the congregation’s shepherd, Pastor Chris says his biggest personal learning has been around the capacity of other leaders. ‘We’ve always had an emphasis on “team”, but relying on the expertise of other people and developing a real team ethos among all the leaders, that’s really increased for me as a pastor.’

They’ve also gained new volunteers, some of whom weren’t previously regular worshippers, even though they were part of the MLCC community.

‘People have become motivated, but also their skills have become more valued’, Pastor Chris says. ‘Every church community has people who love that community but don’t come most Sunday mornings. They may just feel there’s not a role for them. We have people who weren’t regular worshippers but have been volunteering regularly, because they care about the church and they care about the people in it.

‘We have a fundamental belief that God has already given us the gifts that we need to do what he wants us to do, so we’ve asked ourselves “Who are the people who’ve got the abilities we need?”.’

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Hundreds of you – our loyal subscribers – have called for the continuation of The Lutheran’s expanded home worship and devotional materials, even when all churches reopen for unrestricted face-to-face worship.

The Church@Home section, using special resources produced by the LCA/NZ, has been part of our commitment to supporting readers in their faith journey during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Featured since the May 2020 edition, these pages have proven extremely popular with readers, according to our recent subscriber survey.

Released in the July edition of The Lutheran, highlighted in our eNews bulletins from late June and available online, the survey drew 368 responses.

Of the 352 people who answered the question about extra faith-building resources in the magazine, 89.78 per cent would like to see some or all of the Church@Home resources stay on even when worship gatherings are unrestricted. Approximately one-third – or 32.34 per cent – of respondents used the survey link provided in our eNews bulletins and on the printed survey to respond online, while the remainder posted in forms.

As to what motivates people to subscribe, the most popular responses were (with more than one answer possible): It keeps me informed about my church (95.38 per cent); Because I’m Lutheran and like to support my church (80.16 per cent); I enjoy the range of opinions shared (64.95 per cent); and It strengthens my faith (58.15 per cent).

Feature stories were the most favoured content, scoring an average of eight out of 10, while The Inside Story, Heartland, Editor’s letter, Your Voice, Going GREYT, Dwelling in God’s word, Go and Grow and the Directory all scored above seven.

The survey has also provided much useful information for the LCA Communications team to consider when planning future editions of The Lutheran. Thank you to those who took part and for your ideas, encouragement and constructive criticism.

– Lisa McIntosh

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by Faye Schmidt

Early this year I decided that I would retire from paid employment and relocate from Melbourne to Adelaide to be near my daughter as I enter my final years.

Then COVID-19 happened. Like many others, I began working full-time from home.

As part of a team within the Victorian Government which provided funding support to organisations, businesses and individuals to ease the financial impact of the pandemic, I worked long hours and it was a stressful time.

Knowing I would be moving, I submitted my request to police to enter South Australia. I received an automated email with an entry reference number and advice that if I hadn’t heard back within three days to proceed to the border and that my entry would be reviewed there.

My final day of work was 9 July. On 14 July my belongings were collected by removalists to be freighted to Adelaide. The next day I drove, with my cat on board, towards the SA border.

I was terrified. I was now in limbo. Would my paperwork be sufficient? What if they wouldn’t let me in? I had a cat and so couldn’t stay in a motel. I couldn’t go back – I had no furniture and my home was up for sale. I have never been so stressed and tense.

At the border I gave police my entry number and was questioned about my accommodation arrangements and family connections in Adelaide. I was directed to a COVID-19 test. After the test, I drove a few kilometres before stopping to send a text to my daughter that I was through the border. I broke down and cried in relief.

After a police visit to check that I was self-isolating, the following week I finally received an official response to my request to enter SA – I had been denied! Police advised me that I was very lucky as had I not already been in Adelaide, I would not have been allowed into SA.

I share my story because this whole process highlighted even more for me what it means to live under the grace of God.

LCA/NZ Bishop John Henderson cited Romans 8:38,39 in many of his COVID-19 communications to our church: ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

What a stark contrast this is to the fear, stress and anxiety I experienced with my border crossing! God requires no paperwork, no justification for entry to his kingdom, no barriers to be overcome. Christ has overcome all separation between us.

As Paul says in Romans 8:37, ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’.

Faye Schmidt is now a member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Adelaide and serves on the LCA/NZ’s General Church Board.

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by Maria Rudolph

Some forms of coronavirus restrictions have been part of our lives for months. Many people feel isolated, others uncertain, exhausted, or frustrated. Some also experience this time as a blessing of a quieter life without dozens of commitments.

What is your experience? How has COVID-19 impacted your daily life?

You have not caused the pandemic, yet you have to suffer the consequences. Similarly, Joseph in the book of Genesis suffers much hardship in his life that was not caused by his own doing and he had no control over the circumstances.

Read Genesis 37:4,5 and 23–27, Genesis 39:11–20 and Genesis 40:20–23. What are all the wrongs done to Joseph? How did Joseph respond in each situation? Was he resentful? Did he seek revenge?

Amazingly, through all the hardship Joseph suffered, he remained faithful to God and treated others kindly.

In the face of continued mistreatment, in our human nature, we are quick to lament the unfairness, resent those who cause it and can easily slip into a state of depression and give up or seek to get even. Instead, Joseph models a path of continual forgiveness and makes himself available to be God’s instrument right where he is.

Jesus teaches and wins for us the same forgiveness. As a baptised child of God, you live in the love and forgiveness of Christ. Every new day is a fresh start, a new day to be the instrument of God and to share his love and blessings with others.

Read Genesis 50:18–20. Can you think of a current or past situation that was bad but God brought good things out of it?

Read Romans 8:28.

The key statement in this comforting verse is that you and all people are called by God for specific purposes in his kingdom, and God works for your good. But does that mean life is supposed to be smooth sailing?

What is your specific call from God on your life at the moment? How does your church community help and equip you to live out this call?

Sometimes the road ahead seems to be full of obstacles and pain and the outward conditions don’t seem to suit the purpose God has in mind for you. ‘If only … then

I could … ’ becomes a common thought in our heads.

What tasks or decisions do you put off because the outside parameters don’t seem to fit with God’s calling or with what you know God wants you to do?

As we read on in the Romans 8 passage, Paul gives us the most wonderful assurance that we can rest secure in the love of God, which provides the overarching framework for our lives.

Read Romans 8:31,35–39. How does the Romans passage put things into perspective for you?

As you continue to live in the ‘new normal’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, how can these insights help you to focus on the good things God brings out of bad situations?

Thank you, dear Lord, for always working for the good of those who love you, including me. Help me to question less and to trust you more as I step out boldly to share your love with others and as I humble myself so you can work through me right where I am at. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Maria Rudolph is a student at Australian Lutheran College and is a member of Concordia Lutheran Church Duncraig in Western Australia, along with her three children and pastor husband Michael.

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Tangara magazine has a rich history in the LCA. From 1968 to 2009 the students of Luther Seminary and later Australian Lutheran College (ALC) annually produced the magazine to build relationships between students and the wider church.

This year a group of students has taken the initiative to ‘renew’ Tangara to share their journey at ALC. By reading stories from all over Australia from students studying at ALC, both online and on-campus, readers will get to know the future lay workers, pastors and teachers of our church.

The 2020 Tangara will be available for $10 a copy from mid-November and copies will be sent out with students to many churches. For anyone else who would like to buy a copy, please contact the Tangara committee at: Tangara@alc.edu.au for further details.

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